Bookstore Reviewers: Hidden Participants in the Publicity Agenda
As someone who has pushed hard to increase the visibility of the retailer in the promotion and publicity agenda — in other words, to see fellow retailers get the freebies usually allocated solely to print, broadcast and online media — I am now going to appear to argue the opposite case; but trust me, this is all compatible with earlier statements I’ve made.
As a bookstore owner, I’ve actually been reviewing books for a long time in the e-mail newsletters that preceded my blogging days. I would simply remove a book from the shelves and take it home and read it; except for the few that I did not wish to own, and then I would read about three chapters from each of four or five copies, to preserve the ‘new-ness’ of those books. (I believe anything more than three chapters and you’ve essentially ‘bought’ the book.)
Since I don’t do — and don’t believe in — trade shows, this manner of getting past the covers was the extent of my product reviewing modus operandi. Rarely did I even see sales reps, let alone get promotional product from them, with Zondervan being the much-appreciated exception.
The success of megablogs like Tim Challies’ — who is more than willing to read hundreds of books per year — didn’t escape the directors of marketing at various Christian publishers, who then made a point to include social media such as (but not limited to) blogs, in order to get the word out on their new titles.
The problem is, there are lots and lots of blogs out there, some of which poll respectable numbers. Plus, the people reading these blogs are actually reading them, as opposed to print publications who can tell you how many copies they printed, but not how many sold; or how many paid subscribers they have, but not how many of those actually read each article (or advertisement.)
As a blogger, I started getting in on free product myself, and while my combined 600 readers per day was very modest compared to the top 100 Christian blogs, I was very grateful to get the product, and felt my dual role in the bookstore would result in both increased visibility for that product, and sell-through based on my recommendation.
But, alas, as I said there are a lot of blogs. Earlier this year, Thomas Nelson ran a teaser campaign where blogs could post a link to a customized mock-site in which Donald Miller pretends to claim that the blogger in question co-authored his book. Unfortunately, nobody tracked who was participating in that, or what kind of traffic they produced, and when it came time to dole out the actual books for review, they went on a first-come, first-served basis to whoever, regardless of readership or past commitment to the earlier marketing project.
That is symptomatic however of a much greater problem. As I said, there are many blogs out there, and as the number of available book copies started diminishing, I found myself reading fewer books. Instead of reverting to pulling copies of the shelf at my store, I found I had been somewhat spoiled by the free product, with the result that my number of books reviewed in the fourth quarter dropped dramatically from what I did the rest of the year.
Then there’s the issue of publishers not working together with bloggers to hit a home run when it comes to maximizing publicity.
Twice this year, I was given to understand that my personal blog would be hosting some book giveaways from Hachette Book Group. I provided them with a confirmation of the quantity of books, and reiterated my request for a review copy. I figured that the review and the start of the contest should occur on the same day, right?
I figured wrong. The review books never came. So when I was offered a third contest, I mentioned that the first two contests never happened, and was told that this was my fault somehow, I should have just presented the giveaway irrespective the review OR the book’s release date. That’s not exactly maximizing the promotional effort, is it? Maybe I’m just too old-school to want to just randomly give product away with saying more about what it is, and why everyone — not just the 5 or 6 winners — should want to read this book.
To wrap this up, I said that I would tie this to my earlier statements concerning retailers. All these promotional and review opportunities that are being somewhat squandered — in my opinion anyway — represent copies of books which should be in the hands of you, the retailer. Because ultimately, you and I have the greatest control in determining whether or not a book succeeds or fails.
I never did pick up the new Donald Miller title. I don’t know if it’s coincidence or not, but hardly any copies of it have sold at my stores. Makes you wonder.