Friday, December 22, 2006

Rant Against Advertising Part 2

I've been thinking about this a bit more, and came up with a few offbeat ideas.

It's human nature that people often spend more time and energy justifying their actions instead of examining them.

In the case of advertising, what if it truly doesn't work, but everyone is so busy trying to think up reasons it must work that they aren't looking at it deeply enough?

"Everyone else is doing it, so we should to."

"What else should we do with a promotional budget?"

"We've advertised many books, and some of them made money, so advertising must have played a part."

"We've been using advertising since our company began, and long before that."

"We know half of all advertising works, we just don't know which half."


No one seems to agree on what makes an effective ad, or campaign. And it's impossible to recoop the high cost of advertising since it seems to be more about promoting brand awareness rather than actually selling products.

Another basic human trait is a deep rooted fear of making a bad decision, being wrong, and looking stupid. This means everyone would rather follow blindly what came before rather than analyze it and come up with alternate ideas and solutions that might fail.

So publishers continue to buy ads. But what if they didn't? Would newspapers and magazines would quickly go bankrupt.

Maybe not. Anyone who reads women's magazines (I write for a female character, remember?) has noticed a trend that has been going on for years: the advertising column. It looks like a feature, and reads like a feature, but is actually an ad. You can tell it's an ad because it usually says "special advertising section" in small letters on the top of the pages.

These special advertising sections usually are an interview, a slice of life, or an explanation of how something works. TV has been doing this for decades in the form of infomercials.

These aren't just ads. They offer content, rather than simply try to sell a product. There's enough information to allow the reader to make an informed decision, plus a little entertainment to make it go down easy.

One of the big reviewing mags (I think it was PW) started a program a few years ago where authors and publishers could pay for reviews. The industry frowned on it, because it seemed ethically wrong.

But what if newspapers and magazines accepted content--paid for by book publishers--instead of ads? What if the NYT ran a full page interview with Michael Connelly, rather than a full page ad, but charged the same? Is that unethical?

Or what if it ran a column by Connelly, writing about his latest book?

Or would it be unethical if Connelly's publisher paid Stephen King to write a review of Connelly's new book, and then paid the NYT to publish it?

What if it ran a full page Harry Bosch short story that was tied-in to the new Connelly book, which the publisher paid for? Or if it printed the first chapter, but again with the publisher paying rather than the newspaper paying (how many newspapers even buy first serial rights anymore?)

Would newspaper/magazine readers prefer this to a ton of ads they just ignore? Or would this blur the line between content and advertising and piss readers off?

I think it would be nice to open a newspaper and not have ads every page. Let the ads stay where they belong--in the classified section, and in the inserts. Inserts work like catalogs, and people like them (try to find a newspaper the day after Thanksgiving--everyone buys them for the sales inserts.)

Speaking of inserts, what if a publisher did that? Instead of some ads in the paper, they could have a mini catalog: "This Winter from St. Martins." Just like Target, Sears, and Home Depot, except it lists upcoming and newly released books. Borders and BN do it. Why not the publishers? Why would they rather blow $50k on a full page ad? The catalog could also include content, like interviews and excerpts and perhaps even coupons. It might be costly, but if there were three dozen books in the catalog, each contributing their share of the marketing budget, it seems doable.

How about smaller magazines. Could they survive without ads?

Let's look at Crimespree, which has become a must buy for many mystery fans and authors. What if, instead of standard ads, authors and publishers paid Crimespree to run little mini essays?

Example: for a set amount of money, the author would get half a page which would feature a picture of the book cover, and a short column on why they wrote the book. It would cost the same as a regular ad (and probably be cheaper to produce--it's just a jpg of the cover and a dozen sentences.) But it would actually offer content, and I'd think it would do a better job selling the books than the standard cover+blurbs. At the very least, it would be more entertaining than a standard ad, and less apt to be glossed over.

I'd buy an ad like that. Plus I'd buy extra copies of the magazine to give to people. And wouldn't it be fun to read what authors think of their own books in their own words?

I have no idea if these things would work, but I'd like to see someone try them. Not only would it make newspapers and magazines more interesting and less annoying to read, but it might actually sell a few books.

What do you think?

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think it's a good idea in principle, but what of the already dying short story market? Those new authors who are struggling to get into print might find it significantly more difficult because they would then be competing with articles and other content that the magazine was making money from, instead of paying for.

On the other hand, I would definately prefer more content than adverts.

Anonymous said...

You can already do this any time you like.

Buy an ad, and fill it with columnar text and a picture of your cover. A businesslike headline. A picture of yourself. Whatever. The pub may ask you to put "ADVERTISEMENT" at the top or bottom, or thay may set it themselves, so as not to confuse readers.

MJ said...

Joe - alot of those things work - and have been tried. Often tt's not lack of creativity our publishers face, honest, its lack of funds.

85% of all books -of all books - get less than a $2000 marketing/pr/ad budget. OF ALL BOOKS.

That includes ARCs, tours, ads in PW to annoucne the book.

And one other thing - you're not right when you call these ideas non advertising vs advertising.

Everything you are saying authors should do - including public appearences - is advertising.

You've got to start using another word to discuss what you don't like.
Becuase based on the dictionay definition of advertising we'd all better hope and pray we do it for our books:

According to Merrian Webster
1 : to make something known to : NOTIFY

2 a : to make publicly and generally known - advertising their readiness to make concessions - b : to announce publicly especially by a printed notice or a broadcast c : to call public attention to especially by emphasizing desirable qualities so as to arouse a desire to buy or patronize : PROMOTE
intransitive verb : to issue or sponsor advertising

Jeremy James said...

I have to agree with MJ on this one (and not only because I'm enrolled in her January class :)

To question whether or not advertising works at all, for anyone, ever, isn't productive except as a thought experiment to brainstorm other alternatives (which would STILL be advertising). And I'm sure that's your purpose. But come on, it works. Too much corporate money on both sides of the advertising business, for many years now, says it works, at least for some.

Now if you're limiting the discussion to ONLY ads found in newspapers and magazines, that's a fair debate...although, all else equal, why wouldn't an author who advertised their book out-sell an author who didn't?--yeah, I know, because "all else is NEVER equal."

I look at advertising like singles trying to get laid by going to a bar... Does everyone get laid? No. But the people who stay home definitely don't get any action, because no one learns they're available.

As MJ points out, anything that creates awareness in your market about your product can be considered advertising. The industry just categorizes these efforts differently: publicity, print ads, etcetera. But they all have the same purpose: to build awareness. You know all this better than most, Joe.

Where people get confused is when they talk about "selling" and "marketing" in the same breath. Those aren't the same thing (no news to anyone reading this blog). Selling a book is the end goal, not marketing the book. But will a book ever get sold without the marketing? Put another way, *can* someone buy a book they've never heard of? Only by accident, say, if they forgot to return the book-of-the-month that got sent to them.

So you need both: marketing / advertising *AND* selling. Since selling always involves either a cash register or a credit card, there's only so much you can do to streamline the process...which brings us full-circle: How can we better market our books?

I sure don't have the answer, but I do think your advetorial approach could help some authors (the same authors who can afford to buy regular ads today ;) Keep up the food for thought, Joe!

JA Konrath said...

Scribbler--the short story market is very small, and I don't think this would hurt it any more than it is already hurt.

Anon--I realize that. But how many people actually do it?

Thanks for chiming in MJ! :)

I spent five minutes on Google looking for "advertising definition" and came up with these definitions:

Advertising is attempting to influence the buying behavior of your customers or clients by providing a persuasive selling message about your products and/or services.

Advertising is the nonpersonal communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature about products, services or ideas by identified sponsors through the various media.

ADVERTISING is a paid form of communicating a message by the use of various media. It is persuasive, informative, and designed to influence purchasing behavior or thought patterns.

When I use the term advertising, my definition is: A paid form of nonpersonal communication used to influence buyers.

In these last two blog entries, I was obviously focusing on print advertising.

I don't believe most advertising is cost effective, or that it even works at all. People Tivo through commercials or change the channel, and print ads barely get a glance.

I'd be thrilled if you could show me some concrete proof that print advertising works.

It's a commonly used figure that there are 200,000 books published every year. If we don't count the top 15% that get big advertising budgets, we can estimate that the other 170,000 books spend 340 million dollars on advertising yearly.

I believe that some of that money is well spent. ARCS sell books. I confirmed this, having spoken with over 1400 booksellers.

But, as I stated in these entries, ARCs and free books are content, not persuasion. They offer an experience, not the promise of one.

Bookstore tours do not sell books. I've confirmed this. They aren't cost-effective.

Print ads do not sell books, as far as I've seen. I've had about a dozen ads, and tried like hell to track their effectiveness, and didn't come anywhere close to breaking even.

Show me differently.

JA Konrath said...

Smart post Jeremy.

Too much corporate money on both sides of the advertising business, for many years now, says it works, at least for some.

That just isn't good logic. Believing something works because people have done it for years doesn't confirm that it works.

all else equal, why wouldn't an author who advertised their book out-sell an author who didn't?

I agree. An advertising book will probably out sell an unadvertised book. The tricky part is selling enough extra books to cover the cost of the ad. I don't think that happens often, or at all.

But, as I stated, I believe a short story in EQMM will sell more books than an ad in EQMM, and you get paid for the short story.

I look at advertising like singles trying to get laid by going to a bar... Does everyone get laid? No. But the people who stay home definitely don't get any action, because no one learns they're available.

I agree. But seduction beats blantant overtures.

Most print ads for books are the same, and I don't think they work.

If ads offered content, rather than the promise of content, and entertained, rather than announced, perhaps they'd be more effective.

As MJ points out, anything that creates awareness in your market about your product can be considered advertising. The industry just categorizes these efforts differently: publicity, print ads, etcetera. But they all have the same purpose: to build awareness. You know all this better than most, Joe.

I agree. But this rant is about print advertising specifically.

Put another way, *can* someone buy a book they've never heard of? Only by accident, say, if they forgot to return the book-of-the-month that got sent to them.

I agree. But I believe that print, radio, and TV advertising can be left out. Concentrate on appearances, short stories, articles, interviews, and reviews and save some of your money.

MJ said...

Joe, this is not personal but what you're doing isn't right. Believe what you want but there are hundreds of people reading what you believe who think its based on actual research and who are listening to you.

Its like when you said every edtior loves and wants every book they edit to sell. They don't. They expect books to fail. They even chose certain books and let them fail.

For everyone reading this column please also go read some basic marketing books. Read Malcom Gladwell, read Seth Godin, read the blog The Buzz Machine. Those guys spend their lives studying marketing.

First - Joe, you're finding google desicriptions to fit your arguement.

I'm presenting a dictionary definition.

Besides your argument is flawed becuase you are using annecotal evidence based on heresay.

Publishers tell authors that advertising doesn't work TO SHUT US UP.

Sorry - but its the truth.

85% of all books get less than $2000 in marketing and advertising and you can't do shit for $2000 when it comes to print or tv ads.

Real advertising is not one ad in the NYT. Its not one tv spot running once on Larry King. Those are annoucements - and even those sell books.

A real advertising campaign is a multi-demensional effort that runs over time a multiple number of times

And as soon as a publisher has a book that has a big budget they spend the money on ads.

As for proof - of every book on the NYT bestseller list you'd be hard pressed to find one that didn't have advertising behind it.

Your own publisher has proof of how well print ads work to sell books. Just one example - ask Bob about the Five People You Meet in Heaven campaign.

Will an ad sell a book as well as Oprah picking it - no. But we don't have a choice. Will an ad sell a book as well as the auhtor having a weekly column in the LA Times. No.But we don't have that choice.

I've said this before, I'll say it again. There is tons of proof that ads sell books - people have to know a book is out there in order to buy it.

People who say - "an ad never got me to buy a book" don't even know if it did or not.

We see over 350 ad messages a day and built into why advertising works is the submliminal effect that seeing it has on us.

There have been so many studies done on this. Every basic marketing class teaches them -- and I've taken many.

When you test consumers and ask them if they saw an ad - they most often say no and don't remember and can't recall- but whey you show them a magazine with ads and then let them lose in the stores - time after time after time - it has been proved that the sumbliminal messages have done their job.

And when you ask them why they chose that particular brank/product/book. THEY DON'T KNOW WHY.

To such an extent that a certain form of submliminal advertising is now illegal.

Every publisher knows that a well done campaign works. They did it for Lovely Bones. James Patterson did it. Recently The Thirteenth Tale did it and 14 weeks later its still on the best seller list.

They did it with The Da Vinci Code. The highest budget for a novel in years. 1 million dollars in the first few months.

The problem is to do it right costs six figures and up and less than 5% of all books are going to get that.

As a reporter, I spoke to the ad/pr/marketing managers and publishers at every top publishing company in NY - and when I did stories on advertising - every single one admited - on the record - that advertising works - and off the record half of them admited that they say it doesn't because they don't want every author to bug them all the time.

And now I'm signing off and going to write my book which I hope and pray my publihser advertises. And which I will put a lot of my own advance into advertising because I have proof that it works.

Happy holidays to all.

Jeremy James said...

Joe, I'm not sure I could prove print advertising works, because, like you, I'm not sure it's very cost effective.

Using your numbers though, shows one obvious reason it couldn't possibly work: $340,000,000 / 170,000 books equals a measly $2,000 advertising per book. Hardly enough to make a sizable dent even once, let alone the 6-7+ impressions generally acknowledged to be necessary for the viewer of an ad to become of aware of the product. Were your dozen ads enough to truly make an impact? Probably not, even if they were the best ads ever produced. Now, if you ran an awesome ad every single week for 6 months straight in the book review section of every large city newspaper in the country, would that make a difference? Maybe so. But not many could afford to cross this threshold. And that's something I believe is important with regard to advertising effectiveness: there is a minimum threshold of impressions necessary to get noticed. Few authors can afford to reach this threshold.

Now, if we DON'T exclude the top %15, maybe *they* can possibly afford to buy enough advertising to make repeated dents, I don't know. But would it make a difference for them? Admittedly, that's hard to prove, because the only way you could be scientific about it, would be to run a controlled study where at least some of these top name authors who could afford print advertising were not allowed to purchase any, and then compare sales to those who were, and who's going to agree to that? And even if you found some authors willing, there'd still be so many confounding variables that it would be tough to draw any conclusions either way...

Bottom line, I'm inclined to agree with you. Print ads aren't cost effective, and for the vast majority of authors, they're not even an option because the cost to play effectively is too high.

You mentioned book store tours aren't cost effective either, which makes sense given a books-sold-on-site vs. costs analysis. Do you still plan to tour though? If so / not, why so / not?

Finally, where should the money be spent when it comes to book promotion? You mentioned ARCs as being effective. But with the total number of books, not every author has their ARCs getting read by all the buyers or reviewers. So then the question becomes, how do you best MARKET THE ARCs?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

tess gerritsen said...

MJ, your point about the subliminal effect of an ad is a good one. I think that any particular ad will help sell books -- but not well enough to match the cost of that ad. So if we're going to talk finances, no, a single ad doesn't pay for itself in book sales. But there's a CUMULATIVE effect of repeated ads, perhaps spread out over a number of books, over a number of months or years, and these work to convince the consumer that an author may be someone worth looking at.

Once, in a bookstore, I noticed a customer glancing through one of my books, and I couldn't help asking if she'd ever read anything by that author.
"No," she said. "But this is the third time I've seen her name somewhere, so I guess I should give her a try."

It's not that she'd heard good word of mouth -- what moved her to pick up my book was simply that she'd repeatedly SEEN MY NAME, in whatever context, and so it had stuck in her head.

The important thing is to get your name out in front of the consumer. Any way you can do it -- through feature articles or ads or just having a new book on sale every single year -- will make customers take a look at you. I've heard from a marketing consultant that there's a "three-time rule." Expose the consumer to the product three separate times, and that seems to be the point at which the consumer finally gives the product a try.

Jeremy James said...

Oops. I hadn't read MJ's latest response before I posted my previous. (Sorry to say the same things over again she already said much more effectively than I could have.)

I also wasn't responding to your most recent post, Joe...so I will now:

Concentrate on appearances, short stories, articles, interviews, and reviews and save some of your money.

I agree that these are all probably more effective PER IMPRESSION than print advertising. And all authors should do as much as they can of these activities. Problem is, time is money. And once an author runs out of time to do interviews, write articles, and write short stories, then if they want to make an even bigger impact with their promotional campaign, they're going to have spend some money on things that don't cost time.

The point you made about an ARC and free content being an entertaining experience vs. the promise of one is valid. But I think it's fair to assume that the bottleneck isn't a shortage of entertaining content (free or otherwise), the bottleneck is ATTENTION. A book buyer, an editor, a reviewer...these people can only read so many "entertaining experiences" used to sell *the real* entertaining experience which is the book in question.

As MJ points out, one nice attribute of an effective advertising campaign is that it works on a subliminal level. In other words, it doesn't require attention.

What counts when a reader is in the bookstore looking to buy a book?

EVERYTHING!

What I find to be a much more interesting question to ask, isn't whether or not print advertising works for those authors who can afford it, but rather, what works for the beginner or the midlist author who wants to rise to that level? Because one thing we can probably all agree on, it's not the $2,000 advertising budget that gets a nobody to make the leap to Stephen King status. It must be something else (or the combination of a bunch of something elses). My idealistic side wants to believe it's writing great books, and working hard enough, long enough to attract the little bit of luck every big success requires.

JA Konrath said...

Believe what you want but there are hundreds of people reading what you believe who think its based on actual research and who are listening to you.

My opinions are based on my personal experience, observation, and common sense.

Its like when you said every edtior loves and wants every book they edit to sell. They don't. They expect books to fail. They even chose certain books and let them fail.

But do they acquire them to fail? Do they read through stacks of manuscripts and pick on saying "I bet we can really lose money on this! Let's buy it!"

I have no doubt that enthusiasm can get lost between acquisition and publication. But to prove your point, you'd have to show me several examples.

Read Malcom Gladwell, read Seth Godin, read the blog The Buzz Machine. Those guys spend their lives studying marketing.

Read Doc Searls, Hugh Macleod, and Joe Andrieu, who seem to be sayign pretty much the same thing I am.

First - Joe, you're finding google desicriptions to fit your arguement.

Google "advertising defintion." Those were on the first page that came up.

I've already stated my definition for advertising for these last two rants: A paid form of nonpersonal communication used to influence buyers.

My advice: Don't do it. Or if you do do it, understand what it is you're trying to do, and what results you want to get from it. I stated this earlier.

Then I came up with a few ways that it could possibly be more effective. I'm not sure how you think I'm spreading bad information by asking people to think for themselves and try new things.

Publishers tell authors that advertising doesn't work TO SHUT US UP.

Didn't you just mention I was using ancedotal/heresay evidence? Can I have your source on this, or is this opinion?

As for proof - of every book on the NYT bestseller list you'd be hard pressed to find one that didn't have advertising behind it.

So that implies advertising results in NYT bestsellers? If so, then every advertised book would be a bestseller. Which means EVERY book would be a bestseller, and all publishers have to do is spend enough money.

Bad logic.

time after time after time - it has been proved that the sumbliminal messages have done their job.

Which is why we all own one of everything we've ever seen advertised. :)

I've read too much that says subliminal messages are bunk. Awareness of a product is important, I agree. But awareness does not equal sales.

And I contend that awareness of a product by offerening content is better than by offering the promise of content.

Your own publisher has proof of how well print ads work to sell books. Just one example - ask Bob about the Five People You Meet in Heaven campaign.

Surely you know Albom's background, and how much he did to help his own cause. Non-stop publicity and free books went a long way to making that a bestseller. Since it's impossible to seperate that from print, radio, and TV advertising, it's impossible to say how effective Albom's books would be without it.

A real advertising campaign is a multi-demensional effort that runs over time a multiple number of times.

Please explain how the effectiveness of this can be judged. Prove it's worth the incredible cost. I'm guessing you'll say an ad campaign is used in conjunction with touring, publicity, appearances, etc.

Well, I can judge the effectiveness of meeting booksellers. I can judge the effectiveness of speaking in front of a group. I can judge the effectiveness of meeting readers. I can't judge the effectiveness of print advertising--and neither can anyone else. The only way to truly see if it works is by tyring to sell a new book by a new author only through print ads. I doubt anyone would take a risk like that.

And as soon as a publisher has a book that has a big budget they spend the money on ads.

Again, what does that mean? Everyone does it, so it has to be right? And couldn't the ads be more effective by offering content?

To such an extent that a certain form of submliminal advertising is now illegal.

Subliminal advertising has been debunked. Co to www.snopes.com or wikipedia.

As a reporter, I spoke to the ad/pr/marketing managers and publishers at every top publishing company in NY - and when I did stories on advertising - every single one admited - on the record - that advertising works -

And I say that human beings spend more time justfying their actions instead of analyzing them. Of course they would say that advertising works. It lets them keep their jobs.

off the record half of them admited that they say it doesn't because they don't want every author to bug them all the time.

Yeah--bug them all the time by asking them to pay for a big advertising campaign so their book becomes a bestseller and everyone makes a huge amount of money.

Because advertising works. Publishers simply don't want books to succeed, so they limit the amount of bestsellers than can create through advertising.

BTW--I totally respect MJ, and her opinions. She thinks outside the box, her classes are well worth taking, and Author Buzz is a smart idea that is getting some results.

Author Buzz offers the valuable content that I keep preaching about. A full page NYT ad does not.

Maria said...

Ads are like books--some ads work for some people, some ads don't. My husband and I, while watching football, often say of commercials, "We're not the target audience." Then we laugh. But it's true. Commercials do not make me buy anything. Ads in magazines are automatically ignored--I do not shop for books in a magazine, whether it's a short-story magazine or any other magazine. I am not "shopping" for anything so I completely skip the ads--whether they say special advertising section or not. (I used to rip out these sections, along with larger ad sections right when I first got the magazines, but with so few pages remaining, all the pages had a tendency to fall out.)

I think you're probably on to something with the info-ad idea. There's an entire company online that has been offering classes on things such as "how to use your new digital camera." You sign up and you take the online course. At the end, there is a "commercial" for whoever sponsored the free course--you guessed it--a company such as HP that actually sells digital cameras and/or printers.

The company is having pretty decent success because many people that take the course don't mind seeing what the sponsoring company has to offer.

Print ad, (newspaper and magazines) like anything else, need to evolve. Book ads have needed to evolve for a long time.

Stacey Cochran said...

I would like to respond to this. However, my baby son is screaming in the other room and probably needs a diaper change.

So, watch this video of me dumping 100 agency queries on a table instead.

Stacey

gregory huffstutter said...

I've worked for ad agencies for the last 10 years -- my co-workers and I would be kicked to the curb if advertising didn't move the needle.

Advertising effectiveness is far more trackable than it used to be, thanks to on-line click-thru rates, unique 1-800 numbers (check out: www.whoscalling.com), and services that measure ad awareness through focus groups and random surveys.

In retail advertising, they preach a concept called ‘The Purchase Funnel’:

Awareness
Opinion
Consideration
Intention
Sales

The top of the funnel (Awareness/Opinion) is where advertising is meant to inform consumers that your brand exists and lead them towards a favorable impression.

The bottom of the funnel (Intention/Sales) are more feature/benefit/price messages meant to ring the cash register.

If you’re selling autos – say for Mazda – the “Zoom-Zoom” brand advertising you see on TV reminds consumers that Mazda still sells cars (unlike Isuzu) and gives the impression Mazdas are fast, sporty, and nothing like stodgy Olsmobiles.

Then, your local Mazda dealer association runs TV and radio ads that talk about the features of the Mazda6… hoping to reach car buyers who are a 1-6 months away from a purchase decision (the Consideration stage) and narrowing down their shopping list.

About 1 month away from purchase, the consumer typically goes on-line to get comparisons between their 3 top models (Intention stage) taking the suggested retail price into consideration. That where it’s vital to have the “build a car” features on the Mazda homepage and an internet presence on Edmunds.com, KBB.com, Google, etc.

And finally, when the auto consumer has narrowed it down to 1 or 2 models, they’ll check their newspaper classified section to see sale/lease prices and figure out what dealerships they’ll be visiting that weekend.

All of these elements need to work together if you want to sell 300,000 Mazdas a year. You can’t just have brand advertising saying “Zoom-Zoom” and not give practical reasons (“4-wheel drive,” “10-year warranty”) why consumers should consider your brand. And the dealerships can’t just advertise a $199/mo lease offer in the classified section if people have no idea that Mazda exists.

(I currently work for Suzuki Auto -- we spend over $100 million a year and many consumers still think that Suzuki only makes motorcycles).

So what does this have to do with selling books?

You can’t judge an ad in the WSJ by measuring how many hardbacks you directly sell from it. That type of print ad reaches Mr. Consumer at the top the purchase funnel… when he isn’t necessarily in the market for a new novel.

On the flip side, a few months later, Mr. Consumer is in the airport bookstore about to get on a 4-hour plane ride. He’s ready to buy *right now* (bottom of the funnel). He sees a bargain bin – 50% markdown on hardbacks – but skips over it because he doesn’t recognize any of the authors, then heads to another rack.

You can’t just do branding. And you can’t just do point-of-purchase.

As Tess pointed out, it takes time to get your brand message out there three or more times so your name isn’t completely unfamiliar to Mr Consumer as he’s standing in that airport bookstore.

How do you do that with $2,000? You can’t do it the same way Mazda does. And from what I hear, most publishers aren’t going to foot the bill for a WSJ ad.

The internet is a powerful tool. So are guerrilla marketing tactics (like postcard racks in restaurants).

Think of it this way… you can spend $50K on one magazine ad to guide 1,000,000 potential future consumers to the top of your purchase funnel. Or you can spend a few thousand here, a few thousand there and slowly build your name recognition over time (like Joe has done by attending conferences, blogging regularly, handing out coasters, etc.).

But when planning any marketing campaign, you should ask yourself what you’re doing against each stage of that purchase funnel.

Jim Michael Hansen said...

Joe: When your publisher comes to you some day and says it has $10,000 to advertise your next book, do you honestly think you're going to say, "No, I don't believe in it. You're wasting your money."

Anonymous said...

I worked as a typesetter in an advertising paper (Basin Nickle Ads). Advertising works. But, the problem is... what is the best type of ad?

--it needs good content
--it needs name recognition
--it needs to be a paper that a lot of people see
--Word of mouth is still the most powerful advertising...

If not, then you are wasting your money...

Also, I like your idea of book reviews by the author or better yet by an enthusiastic reader.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks for chiming in, Gregory!

Advertising effectiveness is far more trackable than it used to be, thanks to on-line click-thru rates, unique 1-800 numbers (check out: www.whoscalling.com), and services that measure ad awareness through focus groups and random surveys.

And with all of this tracking, the info I've gathered points to ads still being cost-ineffective. I know two authors who tried click thrus, both of whom lost a lot of money.

In retail advertising, they preach a concept called ‘The Purchase Funnel’

I've heard the "zoom zoom zoom" commercial a thousand times. I had no idea it was for Mazda until you said so.

I've seen a hundred of the Mac vs PC commercials. I still own a PC.

I love the Fanta girls, but would never drink that stuff.

And so on. Awareness is the first step, but awareness doesn't come from ads. It comes from customers wanting to have their needs met, and then searching for something to meet those needs.

Meeting those needs isn't based on name-recognition--it's based on past experience. Or passed on experience; word of mouth, articles, reviews, internet communication, etc.

It's great that we all can sing the McDonald's theme from our youths. That doesn't make it my number one choice for eating.

While advertising may promote some product awareness, it does nothing for opinion or consideration, because it is largely ignored by the public.

a few months later, Mr. Consumer is in the airport bookstore about to get on a 4-hour plane ride. He’s ready to buy *right now* (bottom of the funnel). He sees a bargain bin – 50% markdown on hardbacks – but skips over it because he doesn’t recognize any of the authors, then heads to another rack.

I've watched people in bookstores. A LOT of people. I've spent hundreds of hours in bookstores and have spoken to thousands of booksellers and browsers. Not many other authors can say that.

People go into bookstores with an idea of what they want. They may not know it until they see it, and may be open for new things, but mostly people visit bookstores looking to either meet a specific need or repeat a non-specific experience.

A specific need is being told to buy a book becuase Oprah said so, or it's Aunt June's birthday and she loves romances, or they just bought a puppy and want to know what to feed it, or they love Evanovich and the new one just came out.

Repeating a non-specific experience is what your Mr. Consumer is doing. He's read books in the past and knows what he likes. He may recognize the names Scott Turow and John Grisham, but because he doesn't read legal thrillers he's not going to pick them up. He might have seen ten Scott Smith ads over the past few days but even if he does coincidentally see a book with Scott Smith's name on it he still won't buy it if he doesn't like books about man eating plants.

Browsers in bookstores have certain tastes, and are looking for books that meet their tastes.

In some cases, the decision can be made for them. Reviews. Bookstore recommendations. Reading the back jacket copy and a few pages. Meeting the author. Bestsellers.

I believe the reason that bestselling authors remain bestsellers is because readers had a favorable experience once, and try to repeat that experience with subsequent books. Everyone is afraid of making a bad decision and looking foolish. Buying what is popular, or what they enjoyed before, takes away the fear in the decision making process.

Ads don't help in the decision making process, except to announce books by authors who already have brand loyal readers.

As Tess pointed out, it takes time to get your brand message out there three or more times so your name isn’t completely unfamiliar to Mr. Consumer as he’s standing in that airport bookstore.

I agree. But familiarity of a name doesn't mean as much as advertisers think it does.

I'm the person that writes those mysteries named after drinks. Notice that you can find my books without knowing any specific titles, or even my name? That's intentional.

It's familiarity with an experience that's important, not simple name recognition. We all can recognize a million products we don't use.

I don't belive advertising leads to familiarity with an experience. Or even offers the promise of an experience, because there is too little information, and the information that it does convey gets ignored.

Consider this: advertising is a 200 billion dollar a year industry. Everybody wants it to work, and everyone is equally afraid of stating that perhaps it doesn't work.

It sounds a lot like Aztecs making human sacrifices to their gods. Lots of people died, but that didn't make the gods real.

JA Konrath said...

Joe: When your publisher comes to you some day and says it has $10,000 to advertise your next book, do you honestly think you're going to say, "No, I don't believe in it. You're wasting your money."

Hell no. I'll ask them to put it into coop.

tess gerritsen said...

And co-op is exactly where the money should be spent. Because having your book on the front table in B&N is the best advertising of all.

Unfortunately, the bookstore has to agree to give you the co-op. If the bookstore says no, even if you throw money at them, they won't put it on the front table.

But maybe if you tell B&N, "we've got a $500,000 ad budget for this book!" they'll be more willing to make space for you on the front table.

A crazy business we're in.

Anonymous said...

"Or would this blur the line between content and advertising and piss readers off?"

YES. My wife brings home one of those freebie papers from time to time, and every word in the damned thing is an ad. Articles on childhood learning difficulties written by educators touting for your dollars. Articles on health and obesity written by someone selling diet pills.
Legit papers put 'advertising feature' at the top and use a slightly different font - but I've trained myself to skip those pages because I don't want to waste my time reading paid placement. I want a balanced objective view, even if that's not entirely possible.

Barbara W. Klaser said...

I've wondered if advertising in general pays off anymore. I have seen ads that I loved for their entertainment value, for products I've never bought and often didn't notice the name of. I've seen ads for things I needed, and would've bought without the ad. Now and then I get information from an ad that leads me to a purchase, but it's very rare and usually based on practical need. I tend to tune out advertising, as I think many people do in this world of everything-is-an-ad.

For fiction I prefer to go to a bookstore and browse the shelves until something grabs my interest. In the end, the book itself -- the content -- sells me on it. Reading the first page or two and a few middle pages. So getting the book on the shelf to start with seems critical. But like most people I'm cramped for time and sometimes grab paperbacks as I speed through the supermarket or warehouse store. That narrows the selection a lot.

I'm the first to admit -- I'm peculiar. I don't think I've ever bought a book from coop placement in a bookstore. I have this paranoid aversion to anything that resembles special-effort advertising. Hopefully, with all the money put into that, the rest of the reading public is different than I, and if publishers have studied the numbers and determined that it works, I'll take their word for it.

gregory huffstutter said...

JA,

A few more thoughts…

“And with all of this tracking, the info I've gathered points to ads still being cost-ineffective. I know two authors who tried click thrus, both of whom lost a lot of money.”

Any individual ad – click-thru or otherwise – can be judged cost-ineffective if you measure the short-term book sales generated solely from that ad. But branding is a long-term proposition.

By getting your name ‘out there’ you are putting more people at the top of your purchase funnel. Established brands -- like Toyota – have it down to a science. They know that for every million people that are exposed to their advertising message, roughly what % will build a car on their website, what % will visit a dealer, and what % will ultimately walk away with a new vehicle. When they add more exposures in the marketplace in the form of TV/print/radio advertising, they do so with the knowledge that it will lead to hard sales.

The problem with bookselling – from what I’ve gathered – is that very few authors have the financial resources or publisher backing to establish themselves as a brand. They have to pick their battles. One magazine ad at the expense of doing co-op. Attending a conference at the expense of sending out ARCs. You never get to fire on all cylinders, unlike a big pharmaceutical company.

“I love the Fanta girls, but would never drink that stuff.”

You may not personally drink Fanta… but if I were to ask you to name a list of orange-flavored drinks, Fanta will come to mind. But what about Orangina, who doesn’t spend as much in brand advertising? Or Victoria orange soda? Ever hear of them?

If you’re NOT a soda drinker, the name recognition alone won’t drive purchase behavior. But to someone who DOES consume orange soda, the increase in brand awareness from the Fanta Girls will help when they’re at a 7-11 and thirsty.

“Meeting those needs isn't based on name-recognition--it's based on past experience.”

True, but people notice ads more when they’re in a purchase cycle. Judging from the Rustymobile, you haven’t been in the market for a new car in some time :-). But ask anyone who’s recently shopped for a car… when that’s forefront on your mind, you pay more attention to the other cars on the road and are more aware of automobile ads.

In my industry, there’s a concept called “Recency Theory.” You want to reach people as close to the purchase decision as possible. That’s why you’ll see more McDonald’s ads during mealtimes. It’s not a coincidence (trust me, I worked on the McDonald’s account for 5 years). McDonald’s doesn’t care they’re not your #1 meal choice… they make their profit advertising 99-cent egg McMuffins on Good Morning America as a bunch of commuters are rushing out the door wanting a fast, easy, cheap meal on their way to work.

“While advertising may promote some product awareness, it does nothing for opinion or consideration, because it is largely ignored by the public.”

That is patently false. Advertising does shape opinion and consideration. Consider the iPod, which has the majority share of the portable music player market. Is it a vastly superior product over the Rio or Zune? Is it cheaper? No and no… but ask a teenager what they think and they will respond “iPods are cool.” Then look at Apple’s iconic TV spots with the dancing shadows. They’re selling ‘cool’ without even saying a word.

Did Michael Jordan do anything for Nike’s brand opinion? Hell yes. And Nike could not have broken into the golf market so successfully without sponsoring Tiger Woods (and advertising that fact).

“Mr Consumer might have seen ten Scott Smith ads over the past few days but even if he does coincidentally see a book with Scott Smith's name on it he still won't buy it if he doesn't like books about man eating plants.”

Advertising is like a 3-legged stool. In order to be successful, you need:
1) A compelling message that communicates your brand impression and ideally meets a need of the consumer
2) To deliver that message to enough eyeballs to generates awareness
3) A competitive price point or perceived value

If any one of the three breaks down, it can cause your campaign to fail. In the above example, the consumer has received 10 Scott Smith ads over the past few days, and the book is presumably not priced more than other hardbacks on the shelf. So 2 of the 3 legs are solid.

However, if Mr. Consumer is not into man-eating-plants, you’re correct, he will likely pass it over.

But what if Scott Smith’s publisher has peppered those ads with information or implied endorsements like “Entertainment Weekly sez: For those who love Dean Koonz, here’s the next great literary thrill ride!” Then, maybe Mr. Consumer will make the leap and try someone he hasn’t heard of, regardless of the book’s plot.

As a newbie writer, I won't dispute the observations you've picked up from observing thousands of book buyers.

But I can say that whenever the clients I've worked for have dialed down their advertising budgets, they see a hit in transaction counts and overall sales. That's why they keep coming back and spending money the next year.

Anonymous said...

Excellent job Greg of bringing some clarity to the discussion. Thanks.

Richard said...

Thank goodness for some sane wisdom from Greg and MJ.

Anonymous said...

I read this blog for content. I not only get Joe's thoughts, I get ideas from a number of people who have given this topic a lot of thought. In Joe's case, I have bought a copy of one of his books. In my mind, this was a form of pay back. Joe gave me something of value: I gave Joe some money. Now, I spot others on this site that I'm getting a similar feel about. That has to be effective advertising.

Christine said...

I think the displays at the bookstore are more effective than print ads. I mean, books are, by and large, an impulse item, unless you're looking for a book by a favorite author, in which case you already knew about it and ads played no part. (sorry about the run-ons)

Many, MANY of the books I've picked up by 'new to me' authors were Point-of-purchase. Either because they were on a table, face up, or in a display. They caught my eye.

I'd bet that most books are sold at the moment a person lays eyes on them in the bookstore.

The only print promotion I really think is effective is interviews. Because people don't skip them as easily as ads. I personally can't tell you the last book ad I saw, because I probably glazed right over it and pushed it aside.

Interviews with pictures are better.

Web stuff, I think also works, because it's more interactive than print. Having a website, a MySpace, a blog, IMO is more effective than a print ad. (Of course I have no statistics to back this up, this is just my gut feeling.) These give you a sense of 'familiarity' with the author, which might make you want to read their book.

Of course, the buyers for the chains all want print ads before they'll consider you for nationwide stocking, so there ya go. If nothing else, you buy the ads so the stores will stock the book, so people who didn't see the ads will see the book at the store and buy it.

Sigh.

Christine said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
E.C. Morgan said...

I'm the publisher of a newspaper. Used to be an ad director. And I know this much about print advertising effectiveness.

Depends.

Some products sell better through newspaper, some through TV or radio.

Books, though. I don't know...I can't recall every buying a book on the strength of a review or an ad.

klank said...

Here is a fact, ads work 50% of the time and 1/2 the time, companies are wasting their money advertising ;)

Christopher G. Moore said...

Awareness of an author or book makes a difference. Recently one of my back listed titles “Chairs” http://www.amazon.com/Chairs-Christopher-G-Moore/dp/9748769194/sr=1-1/qid=1167031306/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/102-6505845-0406535?ie=UTF8&s=books had gone into a deep sleep on amazon.com Actually it had been in a coma for some years. If it had been a patient on a life support system, the plug would have been pulled a long time ago.

Then the gods pulled strings in some backroom of amazon.com and it was linked with Christopher Moore’s novel You Suck: A Love Story. In a few weeks Chairs had touched 26,000 in the rankings. It was the same book. But it woke up. Coma boy was alive again.

The single amazon review made it clear that the book was significantly different from You Suck: A Love Story or any of Christopher Moore’s other novels. The fact my name had a middle “G.” signifying a different Christopher Moore didn’t matter.

A different Author and completely different type of novel but these substantial points of departure simply didn’t matter. Suddenly “Chairs” was on the amazon.com radar screen (the ranking has cooled down as book has once again sold out).

What happened was something more like Lourdes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lourdes than advertising. But there might be a lesson. In the space between the publisher and reader is a high ratio of noise to signal.

The book market is not alone in facing this problem; many other entertainment avenues add to the amount of noise publishers must get through. Advertisement is both noise and a signal locator. The problem for authors, publishers and readers is finding the right frequency where communication is possible and readers can tune in.

Once they find the frequency, you have their attention, and once their eyeballs are focused on what you’ve written, then you have a fighting chance.

JA Konrath said...

I'm enjoying this discussion, Greg.

By getting your name ‘out there’ you are putting more people at the top of your purchase funnel. Established brands -- like Toyota – have it down to a science. They know that for every million people that are exposed to their advertising message, roughly what % will build a car on their website, what % will visit a dealer, and what % will ultimately walk away with a new vehicle. When they add more exposures in the marketplace in the form of TV/print/radio advertising, they do so with the knowledge that it will lead to hard sales.

Surely you see how cost ineffective this is. And not even the biggest selling books get the type of advertsing budget a car gets.

This discussion is focused on the effectiveness of print ads for books.

The problem with bookselling – from what I’ve gathered – is that very few authors have the financial resources or publisher backing to establish themselves as a brand. They have to pick their battles. One magazine ad at the expense of doing co-op. Attending a conference at the expense of sending out ARCs. You never get to fire on all cylinders, unlike a big pharmaceutical company.

I agree completely. And my advice stands: print ads aren't effective for books. Do something else. Or if you do print ads, make them more effective by offering content.

If you’re NOT a soda drinker, the name recognition alone won’t drive purchase behavior. But to someone who DOES consume orange soda, the increase in brand awareness from the Fanta Girls will help when they’re at a 7-11 and thirsty.

There's no way to prove this. Someone who likes orange soda and is at a 7-11 will likely recognize the various brands offered. if they're Crush drinkers, they'll stick with Crush, no matter how much money Fanta spends on ads.

My wife only drinks Pepsi. And if Pepsi never advertised again, she'd still only drink Pepsi.

In my industry, there’s a concept called “Recency Theory.” You want to reach people as close to the purchase decision as possible. That’s why you’ll see more McDonald’s ads during mealtimes. It’s not a coincidence (trust me, I worked on the McDonald’s account for 5 years). McDonald’s doesn’t care they’re not your #1 meal choice… they make their profit advertising 99-cent egg McMuffins on Good Morning America as a bunch of commuters are rushing out the door wanting a fast, easy, cheap meal on their way to work.

While interesting, this really has nothing to do with print ads selling books.

I know advertising works to some extent. Go shopping with a child. You'll see how effective advertising is, because they'll point to products and ask for them by name.

But I'm focusing on ads geared toward adults, aimed at selling books.

Advertising does shape opinion and consideration. Consider the iPod, which has the majority share of the portable music player market. Is it a vastly superior product over the Rio or Zune? Is it cheaper? No and no… but ask a teenager what they think and they will respond “iPods are cool.” Then look at Apple’s iconic TV spots with the dancing shadows. They’re selling ‘cool’ without even saying a word.

Advertising hasn't hurt the iPod, but it didn't establish it as a brand. The ads might have made people curious about the product, but anyone who has ever picked up an iPod wants one--it's a kick ass little device, very user friendly and intuitive, that does a helluva lot.

I bought my iPod because a friend had one, not because I saw a gazillion commercials.

Did Michael Jordan do anything for Nike’s brand opinion? Hell yes. And Nike could not have broken into the golf market so successfully without sponsoring Tiger Woods (and advertising that fact).

You are correct in this case. Both Jordan and Woods were more than spokesmen, they became brands.

A lot of entertainers (50 cent, Diddy) have clothing lines. Hugely successful.

But while helped spread awareness of the product, so did MJ wearing his own shoes and scoring 46 points in a game.

Again, this type of advertising is an entriely different animal than book ads.

Advertising is like a 3-legged stool. In order to be successful, you need:
1) A compelling message that communicates your brand impression and ideally meets a need of the consumer
2) To deliver that message to enough eyeballs to generates awareness
3) A competitive price point or perceived value


I don't see a print ad campaign for a book to meet the first two criteria.

A newspaper ad is like using a shotgun to hit a fly; it covers a huge area but it is only aiming for a very specific (and small) target.

And even if it hits that target, when was the last time you bought a book, or even became aware of a book, based on an ad?

My next blog entry will explore this...

If any one of the three breaks down, it can cause your campaign to fail. In the above example, the consumer has received 10 Scott Smith ads over the past few days, and the book is presumably not priced more than other hardbacks on the shelf. So 2 of the 3 legs are solid.

However, if Mr. Consumer is not into man-eating-plants, you’re correct, he will likely pass it over.

But what if Scott Smith’s publisher has peppered those ads with information or implied endorsements like “Entertainment Weekly sez: For those who love Dean Koonz, here’s the next great literary thrill ride!” Then, maybe Mr. Consumer will make the leap and try someone he hasn’t heard of, regardless of the book’s plot.


The percentage of consumers who try something new vs. the cost of a campaign where consumers would see ads in ten different places isn't cost effective.

A much better way to sell Scott Smith books is to buy coop, so browsers SEE the book on the new release table, target booksellers with ARCs so they can handsell and recommend it, and target the media which will publicize it for free with reviews.

As a newbie writer, I won't dispute the observations you've picked up from observing thousands of book buyers.

But I can say that whenever the clients I've worked for have dialed down their advertising budgets, they see a hit in transaction counts and overall sales. That's why they keep coming back and spending money the next year.


I don't doubt it. But I do doubt it for books.

JA Konrath said...

And Greg, I have to ask: "What kind of car do you drive?"

I bought the Suzuki to kill it: I wanted a cheap car with good gas mileage to drive 17k miles this summer. I didn't buy for comfort or style or looks. I bought it specifically to tour, and looked for the cheapest car I could find.

My other car is a Land Rover. I bought it while looking for SUVs. I wanted an SUV because I have three kids and two dogs and I hate getting stuck in the snow or sand when we going camping.

I looked at many different SUVs, and went with the Land Rover because of comfort, options, and price.

Advertising never played a part in any car purchase I've ever made.

My next car will possibly be one of the new Mustangs. Why? Because I saw one on the road and fell in love with the design.

I haven't driven one. But I will. And if I'm unimpressed, I won't buy it.

JA Konrath said...

I'm glad to hear your book has found some new life, Christopher, but keep in mind that an Amazon ranking of 26,000 means it's selling perhpas one or two a week.

I had an Amazon short story ranked at 4000 overall (this was before Amazon took down the rankings for shorts.)

Then I got my royalty check from Amazon. A 4000 ranking meant it sold two a day.

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