Analyzing Penguin’s Marketing Strategy Because We Can

September 8th, 2006 · 2 Comments
by Booksquare

Covers of serialized Glass Dreams booksWe are admittedly a bit a slow side this morning — the coffee maker is taking its sweet time, the slacker! — so perhaps we’re completely missing the punch line here. But we doubt it. See, Penguin is seeing a return to the magic of serialized novels as a way to build online buzz. Naturally, our first thought was, “Cool!”

That thought is long gone, replaced by a much more comfortable and familiar “Huh?”

There are so many things to ponder here. First, of course, is the price. Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist (or, rather, G.W. Dahlquist) will be serialized in ten weekly installments, each week, you get a cliffhanger read! Apparently, these installments will be arriving by mail, and the total cost of the serialized version of the novel will exceed the list price of the put-together version of the novel by roughly ten pounds (no, we’re not going to do that; if you want a US dollar conversion, you have to do it yourself). Sure, that makes sense.

The serialization is limited to 5,000 copies. Presumably that also makes sense. Especially since they’re trying to build a water cooler-type buzz for the book in the UK. See, the water cooler thing works much better if you have, oh, ready access to the product. Otherwise the next week, it’s only the same old people talking about something nobody else can have. Buzz tends to wane as time passes. Let us call this, for lack of a better term, the Snake on a Plane corollary to marketing science.

Then there’s the puzzler: apparently, Penguin is seeing this as a chance to build enthusiasm for its “fledgling” website. People, we’re entering the final months of 2006; the site is long past fledgling status. It should have all of its grown-up feathers and be flying high by now. The fact that publishers are still confused about this concept keeps the BS family awake long into the night.

So how will this build excitement for the novel? We’re glad you asked — and just like the Reuters reporting team, we’ve chosen to leave the best for last. Fans of the serialized version (and US fans, since the book is already released here) will then get a chance to discuss the book online, preferably at the website devoted to the novel’s extensive mythology. Hmm, we do like the sound of that. Extensive. Mythology. Lots and lots of content to delve into, a place where we can get lost, talk to others who are sucked into the world the author has created.

So far, the site is, well, less than we expected. It didn’t “launch”, so we’re going to click on the link that serves as backup in event of an anticipated failure to launch. Whew! Success. Okay, so what we have going on here is a pretty nice Flash site. It looks really pretty, but doesn’t deliver the key elements we’re seeking: extensive mythology and community interaction (where, pray tell, does Penguin expect all this discussion to happen? Oh right, they think bloggers will be doing the heavy lifting). We did learn that the author is the world’s sole remaining practitioner of mesmerism. Who knew only one remains standing? Make us wonder what happened to the rest of the planet’s mesmerisers? Have they all gone underground? We are worried about the practice, very worried.

It does not seem to us that Penguin will achieve its goals with this promotion. The website, sadly, is all about selling the serialized version of the novel. Can we assume that after the 28 days left in the promotion have passed, the site will magically revert to something less “buy, buy, buy” driven? Probably we don’t have enough brain cells remaining to remember to go back and check. Since we can’t do much beyond read a few screens of text, there is no incentive to return. Pity, because the book sounds interesting, and building a deeper mythology would really generate good word-of-mouth. Given that the marketing firm behind the online “Lost” campaigns is at work here, you’d think there’s be less focus on corporate branding, more on story-building. We are far too picky, we know.

What Penguin has created here is a very elaborate commercial; what Penguin needed to create was a community. To build buzz, you must provide a hive. Hmm, we clearly need more coffee if that is the type of thing coming from our fingers this morning. But you get the point: this is a half measure, not a full-out effort.

This is a 125,000 pound marketing venture designed to promote a hardcover edition of a book. Yes, 125k on a serialized novel (presumably mailing costs are incredibly high because Penguin isn’t planning to make a dime, or is it a farthing?, off this stunt) and a website.

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File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs · Marketing For Introverts

2 responses so far ↓

  • Eoin Purcell // Sep 8, 2006 at 9:39 am

    Yeah it’s very lame.
    Especially considering the innovative stuff that has been going on online these days. The good thing is that they are at least making efforts to respond on their blog. That at least shows that their blogging is reactive and useful rather than lame like this effort!

  • Booksquare // Sep 9, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    Eoin — thanks for pointing me to the Penguin blog. Interesting response — I’m not sure they’re getting the point. It’s not the concept, it’s the execution. The husband’s first reaction was, “Does it come with a cool box to hold all the books?” — and I think that’s an important reaction. While I recognize the cost of production involved in creating a serialized novel (plus the distribution costs), I think quite a few readers are trying to understand what makes this worth the price differential.

    Now the whole creating a false identity for the author thing — that would work if he, oh, didn’t have an Internet history. While I wasn’t going to buy in to the whole last practitioner of mesmerism thing, the fact that he’s not even than (based on what I read on the Penguin blog) makes the whole thing feel fake. I’d love to see a campaign like this succeed, but already the wall is breached. I believe people are willing to buy into alternative realities as long as you make it real…in a a manner of speaking.