Monday, December 01, 2008

Blanket Marketing

We've just had local council elections here in Victoria, and it's been interesting to watch the various campaigns from those wanting us to vote for them. In my area, I've found it astounding to watch one candidate in particular, and his tactics. Every street in our area has a large poster of him on someone's fence**, there are even larger posters along the main road, I've had three letters from him personally addressed to me (one was hand delivered the day before the election and then the guy put another one in my letter box, not addressed to me or my street number!), more brochures in my letterbox, and then another one on my car windscreen at the local shopping centre.

I wondered several things about this guy - why was he so desperate to be elected, for a start? He wasn't promising anything much that was different. And where did all the money come from for his "waterfall" campaign? Every time I turned around, there was more stuff pouring out from him. I began to feel like he was the last person I'd vote for! But local council elections are weird. Lots of people stand as candidates, and because there's not much going on around here, they all sound the same. It's compulsory to vote, so how do you decide? Well, unfortunately it seems like a lot of people around here voted for the person whose name they recognised! Because they'd seen it on bits of paper every time they stepped outside their door.

Will he make a good councillor? Who knows? Probably very few of those who voted for him can predict this. Time will tell. But he sure ran the kind of advertising blitz/campaign that you couldn't avoid. It's like book publishing. We ask - why does Dan Brown need more publicity and advertising for his books? Why does James Patterson? Or J.K Rowling? Why can't the publishers stop spending marketing money on these famous writers and use it for less well-known writers? Many mid-list and newly-published writers fret about how they have to market their own books. Why is it so?

My guess is that a big publicity campaign for James Patterson is, first of all, already paid for by his earlier mega-sales. Nothing like investing in a sure thing. And a publicity campaign for his new book probably means a million extra sales. A big campaign for a mid-list author (especially if reviews and word-of-mouth don't add five stars) might mean an extra 10,000 copies. The more you see of James Patterson and his books, the more you hear about how great they are, the more likely you are to be tempted into buying one.

That's probably little comfort - OK, none at all - to the mid-list and new author. I read something today that said, in Australia, most mid-list children's authors are only selling around 1500 copies of their books. And that publishers rely on the best-sellers to stay afloat. It seems like a chicken-and-egg situation, doesn't it? What do you think?
** Needless to say, all the local kids had drawn Hitler moustaches on every picture of him!


Snail said...

I've been thinking about this recently (in an vague and detached way). Do publishers get more exposure for their advertising dollars by using the internet to market their books? Seems like a relatively cheap and targeted advertising mechanism.

I have yet to form a strong opinion about this. It will be different in a few months.

Kristi Holl said...

Sometimes I wonder if the mega marketing dollars go to the "sure thing" because there will be an instant response. Thus instant big money. Spreading it out on new writers would be, in the long run, maybe smarter (by building up recognition for many on their list instead of just a couple.) But the pay-off would take longer, and these days we seem to want a lot RIGHT NOW.
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Sherryl said...

Snail, I think mostly they use the net for their own websites. I know a couple of publishers have tried to set up viral marketing campaigns via YouTube or other means and have failed. The net is so democratic that if people don't want to see something, they skip it.
The ads we see on YouTube are the really funny ones we pass on to each other. We see so much advertising that if we can skip it, we will.
Except when we are submerged in paper...
Maybe I should be doing what that guy did with my books? Except there is not even a bookshop in my area.

Sherryl said...

Kristi - I think you're right. I know that if I see a new book advertised by one of my favourite big-name writers (like Ian Rankin), I'm keen to run out and buy it.
Same thing with whatever wins the Newbery.
But other books have to have had good reviews, or be recommended by friends, or just sound interesting when I pick them up in the shop. Seeing the title everywhere wouldn't tempt me. But on the other hand, if the book is in a big display in the shop, I will at least look and maybe pick it up. Which is why the publishers pay for front-of-shop space, I guess.