Last month, Book Business featured a story by James Sturdivant that I felt outlines the benefits and challenges of organizing communities.
Sturdivant profiles what Thunder Bay Press, a Baker & Taylor imprint, did to promote one of its books during the 2012 gift-giving season. The marketing tactics for “The Guitar & Amp Sourcebook” included free give-aways on Goodreads and Facebook, advertising on and outreach to relevant blogs, and PR involving various music publications.
Responding to a question from Sturdivant about the promotional effort, Baker & Taylor’s senior marketing manager Ginger Winters says:
With such a niche book, we really try to "go to where the fans are," so to speak. We've done targeted online advertising and blogger outreach on music blogs, done a Facebook giveaway along with some targeted Facebook advertising, and of course all of the publicity outreach to music publications.
The benefits of community are made clear, at least for niche publications. Make people with a natural interest aware of the kind of books they would want; sales ensue.
Winters goes on to note:
We rely on the author a lot—as the expert, the author will be able to give us a really good starting point for where to go to find the readers. From there, it's just a matter of figuring out how to raise awareness of the book in those markets: Is this a community that is online? Do they respond better to direct mail? Are there conventions they attend?
And that’s the challenge: if the author is the one who can give a publisher “a really good starting point for where to go”, what value does a publisher add? Couldn’t those informed authors use another 50 points of margin to hire their own experts?
I don’t want to single out Thunder Bay, which has tried to plan and measure its marketing efforts across multiple platforms. The kinds of questions that Winters asks are good ones, but they need to be asked (and answered) before the book is conceived, let alone created.
Thunder Bay is doing a good thing within an existing paradigm. I just don’t think the existing paradigm makes sense unless a publisher is also investing to create, nurture and serve its niche communities.