Book Publishers Need To Create More Conversations

The following is a guest post from Christopher Ming Ryan.  Christopher is a video producer, writer, director and a principal at Wheelhouse Communications.  You can follow him on twitter at @chrismingryan and read his blog The Way We Watch.

I’m nervous for book publishers.  I’m not talking about the pricing of ebooks on the iPad or kindle.

There’s a reason authors really like publishers other than the best-in-class editors and the advances.

Authors adore it when someone else does the herculean task of selling their books.  It takes a concerted cross functional effort, money and time.  Publishers have been fulfilling that need (for many) extremely well.

Will It Change?

When a successful author gains a loyal tribe that they then can interact with on Twitter, YouTube and on blogs- what do they need the publishing company for?

If you’re a Stephen King or Tom Peters fan, do you care if his book is available from Amazon via self publishing or created, marketed, and sold via a major publisher?

In fact, tell me the publishers of the last three books you read.

Bet you can’t.

Unless you’re reading a Penguin classic you probably have no clue.

So if you run a publishing company, what makes your author stay past her contract?

Confession: now I could be the greenest kid on the block, and maybe publishers make 80% of their money making tie-in books to Transformer-type movies and the business of fiction and non-fiction books is sort of icing on the cake… I’m hoping that’s not the case.

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I’ve been making book trailers.  I’ve collected some of my book trailers and some of my favorite ones at Just Book Trailers.  The book trailer is a web phenomenon.  They didn’t exist before the web, so as a student of web marketing I think they provide an excellent case study.

Prolific blogger and author, Jonathan Fields wrote on The Huffington Post why most book trailers don’t go viral and suggested a bunch of tips on how to get them to go viral.

He then goes on to make a bigger point that even if you try his tips, the chances are that the video won’t go viral anyway.

A web user can smell a commercial even through his LCD screen.  “Every book trailer is a pimpfest for a book, ” he surmises.  But, he adds, make the trailer anyway, “…because it’s fun. And because it’s one element in a vastly larger initiative.”

As a book trailer producer I wholeheartedly agree.

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But what is the vastly larger initiative?

There’s a brilliant speech that Seth Godin gave as part of the O’Reilly Tools of Change 2008 Conference that is must see web tv for anyone connected to making and selling books.

Godin’s main thesis: books are souvenirs.  In the video, he speaks about how a $40.00 hard cover of Unleashing the Ideavirus became a bestseller on Amazon when he had previously given away thousands of copies away for free as an e-book, Godin says, “Everyone knew the idea and the book was the souvenir.  And people love buying souvenirs, no matter what the price because a souvenir reminds them of the idea that they were already sold on.”

In his speech, Godin talks mainly about his bestsellers but also mentions Stephen J. Dubner and Steven J. Leavitt authors of the hit book, Freakonomics.  These guys blog.  A lot.  They once had a blog on freakonomics.com but it has since moved to the NYTimes.com as one of Times’ Opinion blogs.

Godin believes that if you get hooked by their informative blog – you’ll want to buy the souvenir (the original book and the sequel) just to see what are the foundations of the blog.

Here’s my big question: Why isn’t this blog hosted/presented/initiated/ad supported by HarperCollins the publisher of the books?

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Book trailers have a place when a book comes out.  But what happens after the initial promotion?  Publishers give a small window of time and money to publicize a new book.  If publishers want to keep popular authors past the contract, they need ongoing content .  And the long tail of the web can help that.

Morris Rosenthal on his blog, Self Publishing 2.0 walks the talk.  He’s been preaching for years that new authors need a web outpost (perhaps a blog) to engage readers with content and a gateway to selling the books themselves.

As an experiment eighteen months ago, Rosenthal created ifitjams.com – a do it yourself auto repair website that includes articles, flow charts, pictures, and YouTube videos.

Recently his videos (which takes him minutes to record) hit a total of 500,000 views. In his post on his Self Publishing blog, he offers some good advice on how to title videos, and points out that most of his traffic on YouTube comes from search information from people who are watching related videos (about 2000 people a day).  2000 hits a day just from YouTube.  Amazing.

What Rosenthal has to do now is self-publish a book on being a do-it-your-self auto mechanic.  If he does, I assume some of those viewers will want the souvenir.

Morris, what are you waiting for?

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Next Steps

Publishers need to get into the content game with video.  The big publishers are already spending money marketing books for the web with flashy websites, big tent videos and content marketing to schools.  I believe the next step for their resources should be spent making sustainable video content for the web.

Publishers need to get to know video producers and directors and cross pollinate them with authors. The marketing and publicity budgets are there – they just have to be shifted.

After twenty years of making marketing video, I can safely say that book authors are by and large the most creative people I interview.  Need proof check out this video I made last year.

Publishers need to encourage authors to try stuff without levels upon levels of approvals and sign offs. It’s the same reason why reading corporate blogs are like eating nothing but saltine crackers.  Adam has been writing that the social web needs passion to succeed.  Corporate sign off is the passion killer.

It may be impossible for publishers to let writers and film makers fail.  But they should.  Because without failing and trying lots of things – they’ll never know what works.

Book publicity and marketing staffers also need to start understanding the 10 skills all PR pros need to know so they can effectively make the most of the content that they will be creating.  It’s a new world out there but most new media marketing departments are stuck in dated methods.

Role Model

If you’d like to see an author engage with video with his base, there’s no better example than author John Green who creates videos with his brother Hank Green.  Get lost in these videos and see if you can figure out why his audience is growing and so are his book sales.  His videos routinely get over 100,000 views.

John Green answers this question from a recent interview at indy.com:

Q: What would you say to a cynic who might label your “Brotherhood” videos as a marketing ploy?

A: In retrospect, it was a good marketing ploy…. We thought people who read my books would go to my Web site, find out about the videos and go watch them. It never occurred to us that people would watch the videos and then want to read. But it’s proven to be true.

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Publishers, keep your your authors forever.  Create digital content so that tribes will want and buy the souvenir.

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