A Modest Proposal For Book Marketing

This post, by Mike Shatzkin, originally appeared on The Shatzkin Files blog of the Idea Logical Company on 12/23/10.

It’s a pre-holiday week and a busy one following a busy one last week. So time for blogging is limited and, besides, all you readers have presents to wrap.

But there is one subject to ruminate on just a little bit that came up repeatedly during last week’s business. Constance Sayre of Market Partners and I are doing a joint exploration of ebook royalty rates for a presentation at the Digital Book World conference in January. We created a survey to allow agents to tell us anonymously what kind of deals they were striking and we got about 130 responses.


(Market Partners’ newsletter, Publishing Trends, has a report in their current issue, released today, on what the agents said and the full data will be released for our attendees at Digital Book World on January 26.) We decided to balance our presentation by giving publishers an opportunity to give their side of the story, also anonymously (except, since we interviewed them, we know who they are. The agents, having responded online and in privacy, can’t be tied back to their answers. Connie and I are good at keeping confidences.)

We spoke to seven CEOs last week, a couple of whom were joined by colleagues who actually do the contract negotiating. What they told us about ebook contracts is what we’ll talk about at Digital Book World.

But just about all of them made an ancillary point and that’s our subject today. The point they made is that the main task ahead of them in the next few years is to completely reinvent book marketing. There was clear acknowledgment across the board of something that has concerned us for some time: that inevitably declining retail shelf space means a commensurate decline in critical merchandising capability.

Changes are definitely occurring. The big publishers are undeniably SEO-conscious, investing real effort thinking about what search terms apply to each book they publish. They’re all experimenting with Facebook and Twitter and other social networking sites as well. Various community-building tools, including the very ambitious Copia platform that launched a few weeks ago and the John Ingram-funded start-up Rethink Books and its new Social Book capability, are now being tried out. The established ebook vendors, notably Kobo and Kindle (on my radar screen; I’m sure Nook and Google too), are building social capabilities into their platforms. And the established book discussion networks like Goodreads and LibraryThing are continuing to add participants, books, metadata, and conversation that constitute raw material for marketing the next book from any publisher.

Read the rest of the post on The Shatzkin Files.