No Petitions, Just Action

February 2nd, 2009 · 17 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

I am tired of protests and petitions, which is probably good because I think there’s really only one more to suffer. Okay, so newspapers are folding book coverage — if they have it at all — into general entertainment sections. Okay, so newspapers are cutting back on book coverage. No surprise considering they’re cutting back on everything, sometimes without seeming thought, though you have to give some benefit of doubt.

Assuming the New York Times Book Review survives (and that fortune is largely dependent on factors outside anyone involved in the Review’s control), we are still officially in a new era. One where newspapers don’t offer us the same level of service they offered ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Hey, it was a luxury while it lasted; I’m not alone in thinking that “the press” is reverting to the entity our forefathers envisioned when they gave it such bold freedom.

So now that we can set aside our protests and petitions and self-righteous protestations about the “importance” of newspaper book coverage, can we get on with the getting on of bringing books and readers together?

Let’s take a look at the players in this game: readers, authors, agents, publishers (all component parts), literary critics/reviewers (occupying different spaces at different times), booksellers, distributors. Let’s add in advertisers as well. Did I miss anyone? Can we agree that they are all key players in the book process, and forgetting any one of them is dangerous?

So all of these entities have a vested interest in making sure books succeed. Or rather that reading succeeds. No two players are exactly the same, nor are their needs equal or necessarily similar. Can we agree that the the ultimate goal is to get readers and books together, and can we agree that means But if the goal is to get the book from the publisher to the reader, what parts can we all play?

  • Abandon the Us versus Them School of Reviewing: I’m not the only one who is tired of the whining about “inferior” online reviews and analysis. Remaining on your high horse isn’t going to bring back newspaper book review sections; it won’t decrease the number of periodicals shutting their doors; it won’t accomplish any real goals, unless you count hand-wringing as a constructive endeavor.

    So while you’re worried about “real” reviewing and the decline of Western civilization, take a moment to consider how you can take some positive steps to marry your skills with the world as it is. While there are some culture snobs out there who exist exclusively on a pinnacle of perceived elitism, most of us live in a more inclusive world. Why shouldn’t our critics reflect this?

    So yeah, look at ways to mesh your skills with equally talented online writers or create your own offline, if you must do print, publication. No more whining, lots more action.

  • Publishers Need to Increase Online Advertising: I know this is already happening to some degree, but it’s time for publishers to pony up more dollars for online advertising. Hit the book-related sites and hit the non-book sites. Create a bookish ad network that allows you to spread your advertisements far and wide rather than focusing on a few sites.
  • Oh, and Online Content: Very few individual publishers have the ability to build and sustain community on their websites. Most people don’t connect book with publisher. Then again, Google does. If readers end up on your site, checking out information about your book, doesn’t it make sense to have something compelling, personal (honestly, reading the same book blurb on site after site doesn’t serve your or the book well)?
  • Oh, and More Conversation, Fewer Press Releases: Think of doing more content partnering, less “here’s the information, do something with it”. Become part of the conversation instead of standing outside, looking in. (Note: those of you who are already making positive moves in this direction, keep up the great work!)
  • Booksellers Should Hand-Sell on the Internet: One of the great things about new technology is that it opens up the conversation in multiple direction. Some of us spent this past weekend curled up on the couch, reading about all the thoughts coming out of Winter Institute 4 (here is the Twitter stream, so you can follow along at 140 characters or less per thought), and thinking about booksellers.

    I admit that I was surprised to discover that booksellers aren’t blogging like crazy…and that they’re not embracing like-minded bloggers. Let’s take the second one first: yes, bloggers link to Amazon and other big sellers, but that’s because it’s not always easy to link to books on your site. We’re trying to maximize exposure to books. Some of you might be well-suited to handle this kind of online traffic (and even fulfillment). If so, why aren’t you networking with the bloggers in your area? Why aren’t you reaching out to local bloggers with information and content, creating partnerships in your community?

    I also hope that more of you see incorporating a blog into your website as a way to move the shelf-talker concept online. You cannot always be on the floor, hand-selling books to customers. You use a combination of in-store techniques to draw attention to books. One thing that continues to astound me is how many bookstores (and publishers!) avoid offering personal connections with books on their website. Reviews, staff recommendations, customer comments about titles…all of this brings your customer base closer to you.

    Finally, you can’t compete with Amazon/big online retailers on all levels, but you can compete on others. Figure out what they are and fight on your playground. Why do people shop one place over another?

  • Stimulus Package? Since the government is busy bailing us out of this, that, and the other (and then some), maybe it’s time for those of us who have the technology to get our heads together and come up with ways to bring all interested parties together and create something good. How do we do this? How do we bring readers and book people together for conversation? How do we get the online and offline worlds to work together? Where do we start? Bueller? Bueller?

Happy end-of-Monday — next week the Booksquare team will be in New York for the Tools of Change Conference, eager to talk about this and everything else under the sun.

File Under: Square Pegs

17 responses so far ↓

  • KatG // Feb 2, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    The big problem publishers have is that they have fewer sales outlets overall than they did ten or twenty years ago, so direct online selling will be a very good idea — if Amazon lets them do it and if they can develop the necessary infrastructure. Amazon has been blackmailing publishers lately for price discounts and other demands, and may not tolerate publishers trying to go around them. Eventually, Amazon’s monopoly may ease, but no one yet knows what the future online book marketplace is going to look like yet.

    I’m not surprised that most publishers aren’t blogging — I doubt publicity and marketing people want to do it and editorial doesn’t have time to do it. Most houses don’t have an on-line marketing division yet. Publishers are used to staying in the background, and their lists are so varied for the big houses that they don’t know how to brand themselves online, which will probably require multiple websites, not one big one.

    The loss of the newspaper coverage hurts a lot because television, magazines and other forms of media have little interest in books and practically none in fiction. Publishers are very active in cultivating online reviewers, including amateur bloggers, with ARC’s, but online flash ads are expensive, just like print ads, and like print ads, don’t necessarily give them decent value yet.

    So maybe your Tools of Change Conference can come up with ways to interest the other media in books, to interest online sites in books, and how to turn the word of mouth sales factor of books into the word of mouth sales factor on the Web. Because publishers probably aren’t going to figure it out on their own.

  • Robin Mizell // Feb 2, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    The tools of change are available, but not many people are willing to use them. Some time ago, I made note of an interesting wiki, Bookgroups, designed by the author Mindy Klasky. Bookgroups is intended to bring authors, publishing professionals, and book groups together.

    Gather is a social networking site that hosts conversations between authors and readers and seems to do a good job of attracting writers and book clubs.

    Facebook is another platform that many small presses are using to interact with readers, rather than attempting to lure people to their websites. I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more advertisements for books on Facebook. Frankly, I’m getting tired of the wrinkle cream ads.

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  • mjc // Feb 3, 2009 at 8:54 am

    This is a wonderful summary of whose interests are at stake –“readers, authors, agents, publishers (all component parts), literary critics/reviewers (occupying different spaces at different times), booksellers, distributors”–and the goal they all share–“bringing books and readers together .” I do object, though, when the agents of change, like ms. kroszer, to whom many are looking for guidance and vision, rise to the bait of a business-culture war. ‘Whining’ about the quality of online reviews and book commentary is not appropriate, as Kassia points out, but villainizing those who are witnessing tremendous carnage in this process is no less inappropriate . Indeed, we all share the same goals. But we can’t dismiss what is lost along the way as deserved nor conclude that it is not a loss, nor console ourselves by conceding that it is unavoidable as we rush toward something new. It is necessary to critique technology as it unfolds and is deployed in a market; technology is not a force of nature. Its deployment can be influenced for good and ill–nuclear energy has been stalled, and Detroit managed to stifle alternative technologies for automobile design, for examples. It is true that many business are entrenched in an old media, or so deeply rooted in companies built upon old models, that they are defensive or slow to respond, or incapable of competing today. But it might be just as true that are many new business committed to change and charged with making it happen, invested in it, in fact. We should really endeavor not to let this become a war between two interests, if in fact we are to honor the fact that we want the same thing. Let’s not fight about how to get there, let’s get there.

  • Tom Thompson // Feb 3, 2009 at 9:20 am

    This is a great post. You should know that we recently created a “bookish ad network” that almost every major publisher has already started using. It’s called the Verso Reader Channels. Check it out:

  • Jack McKeown // Feb 3, 2009 at 11:11 am

    We were gratified to read the plea above for more online advertising and the need for vertical ad networks dedictated to books, in particular.

    Trade publishers traditionally are accustomed to having their marketing relationship with readers be intermediated by others, whether it be independent (bless them!) or chain booksellers (bless them, too!), libraries, book reviewers, talk show hosts/producers and other assorted pundits. The Internet offers the power to change that indirect relationship into an active sense of engagement with real consumers. And now the targeting capabilities of the Web 2.o world finally have got up with publishers’ need to run highly focused, book-specific campaigns.

    We are up and running with the Verso Reader Channels (TM) network since 9/08 and to date have run nearly 30 campaigns, including 8 NYT bestsellers. We have 4,300 specialty content websites in our network, with over 110 million monthly unique visitors. We slice through this pool of consumers based on their content preferences, i.e. contextual targeting, to delivery genre-specific channels. Examples include a Military History Channel, Food and Wine Channel, Science Fiction and Fantasy Channel, a Thought Leaders Channel, etc. Each channel is further customizable on a book-by-book basis. And as an industry-wide aggregator, we deliver campaings that are highly affordable, even by book publishers standards, with CPMs (cost-per-thousand impressions) that are a fraction of what publishers have to pay for the; or It is working. Two of our campaigns have yielded pools of registered viewers of 100,000-plus and 70,000-plus respectively and the publishers could not be more pleased with the way this is all tracking. There is a better way.

    I hope to see you all at the Tools of Change conference next week where I will be presenting a session devoted to ad networks for books.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 3, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Michael, Agreed that villainizing those who are witnessing carnage is unfair, but I’m not sure I did. We are years into this process (looking back at the BS archives, this was a topic I wrote about when I first started the blog all those years ago), and I feel for each and every person affected, but I have less sympathy for the collective. While there is necessarily (and should be!) a period of mourning when it comes to loss, the solution seems to be to get up a petition and attack the new media as the destroyer of old. It feels good to rail against the system — whatever that system might be — but when you rail loudly and publicly year after year, without offering smart, practical solutions, it’s not constructive, nor is it healthy. Where is the collective voice saying “Okay, how can we move forward?”

    So, yeah, let’s get there. How do we do it?

  • Kevin Smokler // Feb 3, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Bravo Kassia! And yes, couldn’t agree more. Nothing wrong with mourning or asking smart questions about chance but, as my grandfather of blessed memory used to say, “Nothing wrong with crying. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of doing.”

  • Ken Arnold // Feb 4, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Spot on, Kassia. It is this situation that has led us to create, where books are reviewed and discussed by members and where publishers and authors can advertise, hand-sell, and listen to what readers think. We’ve been up for a week–looking for early adopters and feedback.

  • Laural // Feb 4, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Hmmm… I used to find this blog interesting and insightful…but lately it has been highly cranky and critical..and whiny. Everyone who is selling advertising online supports this …approach. Now there’s a surprise. I don’t disagree with a lot of the message… but the holier than thou tone could use some work!

  • KatG // Feb 4, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Well, and it’s also going to be a choice that publishers have to make, isn’t it? Which sites, which ad networks, which online communities bringing readers and authors together do they chose to spend their marketing budgets on and which do they give a pass and maybe let the authors try them if they want to? There will be winners and losers in online publicity, and there is also the reality that advertising is being cut across the board by all industries, online and off. Publishers don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on ineffective ads and marketing efforts, even the big conglomerates, so again, it’s likely that they’re going to hang back, see which sites do it best, which newspapers are still standing, etc., before they make a move.

    The culture wars with the petitions and such is really more about people being angry that the newspapers are cutting book coverage but aren’t cutting movie coverage yet. To be fair to newspapers, though, there are a few hundred films out in a year from studios who spend tons in advertising with the newspapers, while there are several thousand books put out a year by publishers who spend very little on newspaper advertising. So it’s not fair to expect newspapers, who are dying on every front, to be the bulwark for books, and it is not a simple equation either to expect that the online world is going to solve the advertising problem for all books, rather than just a select few of them.

  • Zoe Winters // Feb 4, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Hey Kassia, Great post!

    I think it’s refreshing to see this attitude. There is so much whining going on. And I agree with you, I feel for everybody who has lost a job in a tough economy. That’s really scary. But the “collective” it’s hard to have sympathy when people have said “these are the changes that need to happen” for years. And now the economy is “forcing” the issue.

    I don’t see this post as whiny, but as constructive. You’re like the publishing Jillian Michaels, yelling and pushing, but with good reason (It’s Biggest Loser time and I’m a Jillian Michaels fangirl)

    Robin: Thanks for the info about Gather and Bookgroups!

    Ken: Thanks for the info about!

  • Renee Giroux // Feb 5, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    This is the best post I have read in a year at least! Even tweeted to send others to read. I cannot thank you enough for you pointing out things that readers **ahem those people actually going out and paying money to buy the books** have been thinking for years. I was a reader looking online for more info about my favorite books and series, usually to find almost nothing. It was out of that frustration that inspired me to found conversation of books. We have a team of reviewers, from the absolute professionals to the “amateur” booklovers who are compelled to spread the word. I am almost always amazed at the quality of the “amateur” review.

    Another area that I found lacking and we have made the case for is author accessibility. I am personally more starstruck to meet my favorite author than any actor in Hollywood. I have come to realize that most authors are perfectly thrilled to be accessible to readers. They happily answer questions, with candid honesty that amazes me. There is not reason that authors should not be accessible through their publisher’s sites. Things like Amazons Author Stores, which is in Beta and terribly lacking in useful data, can be a model for publishers.

    And, on that soapbox. Authors, lets talk. I know that writing is your passion, not marketing or selling yourself. Still, please have a website. Something, a blog, a wordpress page disguised as a site, something for us your loyal fans and the people working to promote your work can use. No a myspace page is not enough. Sorry. Feel free to take it a step further and make the leap to social media, or twitter if you are inclined, but at least have some web identity.

    Okay, I am climbing down now. I will be inquiring about Verso, love to have more book ads on the site. Let’s face it book trailers lose their impact in print ads anyway. Just know that we are doing our part to contribute to and promote the conversation of books.

    Renee Giroux

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  • Ted // Feb 19, 2009 at 9:29 am

    I see two problems among the components in the issue that was discussed. First of all, everyone new to the industry, from a snot-nosed college sophomore to a weathered editor at a commercial press with elite university connections who has decided to start a publishing company or his own imprint, intends to be an elitist and exclude anyone else except those he considers his peers, whatever his standards are. (The idea is: Oh, you must read my work, but I’m not going to read yours.) Further, for an author, just how much time should or could he take to manipulate everything it takes to get noticed and read? For anyone serious about writing, I doubt there’s much time to manipulate marketing channels. I believe that the more people take time to manipulate the markets, the less is going into composing. And, further – that those who are better at self-aggrandizing aren’t of necessity taking enough time with their works, but since they make more friends their work is circulated and the work of others is not. In the past, that was the function of the publisher: To take a book and market it, and leave the author free to write other books. Now each person has to write, edit, agent, market, manipulate the relevant book/networking sites. I don’t think this approach will work for long. I could spend all day bouncing around all the author/reader/marketing/industry sites and not write a line of text. Good luck! Ted

  • KatG // Feb 19, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    No, in the past it was not the function of the publisher to do all or most of the marketing and publicity for a book while the author sat around writing. Authors have always done the bulk of publicity work, and publishers have mostly concentrated their marketing efforts on getting bookstores to stock and display their titles. In the past, this has been rather frustrating for authors trying to find promotional opportunities. The Internet lets authors make an end-run around uninterested and unresponsive media and attempt publicity efforts that would be far more difficult and expensive in the physical world. But getting noticed on the Internet can certainly be as difficult as anything else, and publishers do need to step up to the plate and do more online, which also may cost them less. But it does tend to be the authors who are the innovators and the publishers follow their leads.