Sunday, December 28, 2003

From the Los Angeles Times

Book marketing campaigns borrow glitz from TV, movies
As book sales slip, publishers turn up the hype with Hollywood-style events, toy tie-ins and contests.
By Renee Tawa
Times Staff Writer

December 28, 2003

Meet Stephen King! Put your beagle on the cover of a best-selling book! Win $4,000 (and a free paperback)!

Ah, the gentle art of book-ish persuasion. This was a year in which the publishing industry kept its literati tendencies in check and infused a Hollywood-style razzle-dazzle into contests and other promotions intended to nudge books into at least a glimmer of the popular culture spotlight. With book sales down from last year, publishers are being forced to abandon their high-brow position above the fray and dive right in with movies, TV and other competing forms of popular culture.

"Publishing for so many years was viewed as a fussy gentleman's business, as an academic corner," said Jacqueline Deval, publisher of Hearst Books and author of this year's Publicize Your Book (Perigree). "That hasn't completely gone away, but it's certainly attenuated. Publishers are becoming more slick and savvy on reaching potential audiences."

The hype doesn't take the shine off books, doesn't diminish the importance of literature in our culture, she said. "It's a mistake to treat books as precious things, as part of that rarefied academic realm of the world. That's the kind of thinking that makes books feel inaccessible."

Who says new books aren't fun in a movie premiere kind of way?

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) promoted her memoir, Living History (Simon & Schuster), on a Barbara Walters TV special this year. In November, Madonna talked up her second children's book, Mr. Peabody's Apples (Callaway), on Late Show With David Letterman.

There also were troubling signs that a book alone, minus the celebrity, isn't sexy enough to turn a consumer's head. In June, after Oprah Winfrey featured John Steinbeck's East of Eden on her show, for instance, Penguin released a new edition of the classic with this plug: "The book that brought Oprah's Book Club back."

Even publishers with sure-fire hits on their hands tried to come up with new ways to cannonball their books into the public consciousness.

In June, a moving billboard on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood and an electronic sign on Times Square in New York were timed to mark the exact moment that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Scholastic) was released. It's impossible to say whether the marketing of J.K. Rowling's latest added to the novel's star power, but it didn't hurt -- and more than 11 million copies have been sold in the United States.

Largely, though, big-splash publicity campaigns didn't pay off. In the first 10 months of the year, for instance, sales of adult hardcover books were down 5.8 percent, to $965 million, compared with the same period last year, according to the Association of American Publishers.

In this uneven economy, consumers consider new books to be luxury items, noted Robert Baensch, director of New York University's Center for Publishing.

As a result, major publishers are forced to think globally, Baensch said. "The big guys are taking the lead of saying, 'I'm not just publishing a book. I can have a miniseries [tie-in] on TV, a mega-event with movies, plastic figures at McDonald's or Burger King, and the fluffy toys at Toys R Us.' "

In the past few years, the industry's expansion has perpetuated the frenzy. Last year, U.S. publishers released 150,000 new books, up 5.86 percent, according to a recent study.

Publishers are taking no chances with even brand-name authors, designing marketing campaigns to build and sustain buzz.

In a contest promoting the latest volume in The Dark Tower, the series of novels by Stephen King, Simon & Schuster and Penguin invited readers to submit videotapes dramatizing an excerpt from one of the books. The winner will meet King in New York next year -- travel expenses are not included -- have one photograph taken with him and can ask "one or two questions."

Dan Brown's colossal bestseller The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday) already is on its second contest since its publication in March. In the first one, participants worldwide had to solve a complicated puzzle based on the book's plot. Brown will name a character in his next novel after the winner. The second contest is offering a three-night stay in Paris.

Books with lower profiles got into the game too. The winner of an online sweepstakes for This Book Will Change Your Life (Plume) by Ben Carey and Henrik Delehag will receive $4,000 and a copy of the book.

In time for the holidays, DK Publishing is offering to put readers' snapshots on the cover of America 24/7, a photography book put together by the team behind A Day in the Life of America. Submit a digital photo to a DK Publishing Web page, and the publisher will send America 24/7 with a custom jacket for about $6 extra.

DK Publishing calls the offer "the first mass-customization of a best-selling book."

Renee Tawa is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Copyright © 2003, The Los Angeles Times Business

No comments:

Search This Blog