First the must have was "viral booktrailers", then "blogs" then "a presence at social networking sites". Now the buzz must have is "a high conversion rate" but there is not now and never will be one solution to how to advertise anything - including and especially a book.
GalleyCat has posted about a comment Seth Godin made on his blog about
encouraging people to click on ads and that he was hoping we could create "the most robust ad environment for the web... one in which more surfers give permission to more marketers to make their case."
As an author and someone who has spent her life in advertising – pre “the net” and post, I agree with Seth.
Advertising has never been publishing’s strong suit, the industry still has a ways to go. The web can go far in helping our industry grow if we use it right because for the first time advertising is affordable.
Here are some basic mistakes the industry makes.
A. All too often they wait for books to be a success before the start advertising instead of building a book with marketing.
B. Too much is done in house by folks who simply don’t have an advertising background and can’t create the kind of compelling creative professionals can.
C. Publishers tie the advertising effort for the most part to the two weeks of coop which ignores the fact that buzz takes 6-8 weeks to build.
I know, I know. All of this is because there is no money to advertise books correctly. And because there aren’t enough people in the marketing dept.
But that was then, this is now.
For years publishers bought ads, say for instance in the New York Times without having any idea whatsoever in the whole world if those ads were indeed effective or pulling or reaching the right audience.
One ad, one day – or maybe if the book was a bestseller –two or three days. (An ad needs to run over and over - from three times to a dozen times for people to even notice it and we have found the more you run it the better the chance someone will notice it - overexposure in our environment is almost impossible to accomplish.)
The smallest ad in the NYT is $7000 and more in USAToday. In general publishers are spending $15,000 and up on print ads (and have been doing so for years) without having any results to tabulate.
Enter the web.
You can take that $7000 and advertise a book for 3 or 4 weeks - exposing the book at least three times. Or take the $15,000 and advertise for six weeks.
And while you’re doing it you can get information – what works, what catches people’s interest – change it if it isn’t. Experiment.
That’s hard to do though –takes time and people and money. (Or just hiring some of us who aren’t that expensive☺
But experimentation and exposure is losing out to the idea of “conversion” - this months magical buzz word. And conversion is no more magical than the other buzz concepts that the industry has tried to embrace as being THE solution to selling more books: having a blog, a booktrailer or social networking.
What’s now happening is that publishers buying ads online want conversion figures and conversion figures only instead what caring about what many of us know from being in the business of advertising is much more important – and that’s exposure.
People can’t buy a book if they don’t know it exists. And that existence comes before purchase and the two things don’t happen simultaneously. That’s why advertisers who do have money advertise a product continuously.
And it's why I believe James Patterson’s books sell . He advertises his brand all year long with ads yes but also with books. Each new books acts like an ad for the next one.
Like Seth says. Expose something to someone who might not have thought of buying it.
And what I'd like to add is do it over an over. You have to.
Most books are not toothpaste or apples. We don’t need them to survive – in a literal way. We can’t sell them the same way. We have to seduce readers into picking up the book first and thinking about buying it and then the book has to do its job.
Just because we can track ads when we never could before doesn’t mean we should lose sight of what we else we can be doing with our ad dollars. What an ad can do and what it can’t.
We shouldn’t expect an ad to do the job of a book.
When it comes to books here are a few different kinds – and different kinds of ads can do different kinds of things for each of them – all on line for a fraction of what it would cost in print.
A. Books written by very very top bestselling authors who already have a following. An ad can sell this book – meaning you can get conversion here - because the reader doesn’t need to think about the purchase. She always buys Nora Roberts’s books and always will – the reader just needs to know the book is available. The reader needs to be exposed to this title and very likely will make a purchase without having to see/feel/read some of the book.
B. The book written by a famous person (Obama’s biography) or a book about an incendiary and/or very important subject (The Prosecution of George W. Bush). The reader needs to be exposed to this title and very likely will make a purchase without having to see/feel/read some of the book.
C. And then we get to more than 90% of all fiction titles and more than 30 % of the rest of the books out there.
The novel written by anyone other than a #1-#5 bestseller. A novel some people might be waiting for but more people aren’t. The non-fiction title on an interesting subject but not one that is an immediate “have to have.”
These books won’t sell via an ad. They will interest a reader via an ad. The ad will expose potential readers to the book and hopefully the reader will hop over to BN, Amazon, Powell’s or stop in a store to read more about the book. Maybe even buy it or at least put it in their shopping cart. Or take it out of the library.
Do we want to damn affordable advertising now that we have it for the first time by demanding ads on line deliver conversion when we were never even able to get any data from print ads but that didn't stop us?
Why are we suddenly judging ads by the most difficult criteria when for years publishers didn’t have any way to judge their ads at all? I'm not saying a high conversion rate isn't terrific or that I don't care if people click on ads. I do. I'm just saying there are other things to consider and conversion is not all.
Is it better to advertise a book to 2000 people who are die hard enthusiasts for that topic/author and get a 10% conversion rate and have 200 people buy the book on the spot or is it better to advertise a book to 2 million people, get 100,000 of them to be aware of the book and potentially look for it in the store?
Ideally you want to do both. And with prices being what they are on line you can do both. We shouldn't lose the value of exposure because we're hooked on the idea of conversion.
Conversion shouldn’t be the buzz word of our business. Exposure should be. Otherwise we are throwing out the potential that we’ve never had before and can be so valuable to our books and authors.