Book Marketing and the Lockdown – How Things Can Change

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Yesterday, an article in the Observer talked about lockdown heralding a brand new start for the book trade. It tells us a great deal about stats and sales, and is very informative, as one would expect. But it got me thinking about events, about other marketing incentives, and about how books can learn from other disciplines.

In the of the virus and the lockdown, the landscape for book sales is shifting – we know this. Bookstores will need social distancing measures, festivals are unlikely to happen, and your basic signing event will need to change.

In part, this is always an organic process. The days of author-and-pen have been fading steadily for some time, replaced instead by panels and talks. More authors at a single event means more fans, more cross-pollination, more sales. People come to see one author and discover two more (the maths are pretty simple), and everybody wins. Obviously, there are still creators who sign and tour alone, but the rest of us mere mortals are better with wing-people.

And with the current climate, it’s inevitable this will change again. Without events, bookstore websites need to become the destination. Smaller and/or debut authors will be promoted more online – which means less expense and less stress for publicists. The ‘blog tour’ concept is already opening its arms to virtual conventions, and that means more authors, more placements, more content, and more reach out. Zoom panels are a thing, and bookshops or bloggers or both can host these – the possibilities are as wide as your imagination.

But we also know that this climate is difficult for smaller bookshops, and we’ve seen how they’re banding together to fight back against the Amazonian juggernaut. But – and hear me out – what if this cross-pollination can be taken a step further?

In my job, I overlap several different disciplines who all approach marketing in their own way. And there’s a quite frustrating tendency to think that comics people are separate from books people who separate from games people… but, here a thought: what if they’re not? What if your common-or-bookshop geek likes more than one thing at a time? What if they like comics and games as well? And what if book marketing has something to learn?

Amazon is a nasty, soulless giant, with no personal reachout. And this is what we need to exploit if we want to chase it away. We (as much as we ever can) need to offer that things that it can’t – not only the ‘indie bookstore’ personal touch of digital events and signings and involvement, but also the pretty, individual things that we all love to collect, that we can show off across our own social channels, and that make us happy under lockdown. The treasures that you’d only find in your corner store. Books can have collectible variants, like comics. They can have unique artwork, and signed, mini-print editions. They can have steelbook covers, like games, or they can come with figures, if the budget will stretch enough. And why stop there? Why can’t they come in locked boxes, in embossed leather bindings? Why can’t they come with special, exclusive ‘from-the-author’ content that varies from bookshop to bookshop?

(And suddenly, I’m having a wacky idea of a book published in bits, each bit to a different shop, but that might be an extreme case… hell of a trick to do once, though!)

Now, I get that lot of this is a money thing – badges and bookmarks and cakes (on my) are inexpensive, compared to a limited edition run of a hundred numbered steel jackets. But, as the move to (more) digital would seem to be a given, it would be fantastic if publishers and bookstores could find way to back that up!

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