Monday, July 10, 2006

Virtual Reality

I really never intend to take the weekends off from this blog, but I spent yesterday sitting in the sand, drinking wine, and attempting to tan, all things that don’t require a computer’s presence. I am now a slightly darker shade of pale, more cream than polar ice cap (or cheap printer paper), and much more relaxed. I’m also feeling pretty educated because between the wine and jumping in the water to cool off, I started reading Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail (whose official release date is tomorrow).

Fascinating stuff. I actually dug through my backpack to find a highlighter and a pen to take notes, so expect some major discourse on the long tail theory in the future. I’m even tempted to get up the guts to ask Mr. Anderson for an interview because this is heady stuff.

Needless to say if you are anyway interested in marketing, market trends, or the fascinating study of economics and want an easy to follow, compelling (as in a “not at all a dry academic text”) you should pick it up tomorrow from your local bookstore or buy from Amazon. If you are not interested in any of those things, you should still read it because any business you might be involved with in the future will be affected.

The book also got me thinking about the lag time between when a book gets buzzing on the internet and when brick and mortar stores actually start showing a higher rate of sales. Often I’ll hear titles getting bandied about as the next new thing in the blogsophere, only to see no corresponding result in my store. Of course, I can’t survey every customer who walks near the book and ask them why they didn’t pick it up (I’m told customer harassment is frowned upon by the company), but the lack of dollars speaks for itself. One could argue that the online sales make up for this (and say that the book has found its niche there), but that means that this title is only reaching a certain percentage of the population (which is better than nothing, sure, but still). That it went viral on the internet is fantastic, but if it goes virtually ignored by the rest of the world (people who either don’t have the internet or don’t spend hours upon hours on it searching for the next hot, new thing) then there is a failure in the marketing system.

Especially if you are targeting a group of people who may not be internet savvy.

So how do you bridge that disconnect? How to do you run a successful campaign that targets your specified group while reaching farther a field?

Do I think this disconnect grows smaller daily? Sure, more and more people are getting computers and getting internet friendly, but a large chunk of the population (Older boomers and the parents of boomers as well as those who cannot afford a fast internet connection or nice computer due to lack of funds) remains outside this virtual world.

Let’s face facts:

  • While readership may be down, people still receive and read the newspaper instead of going online to flip through headlines.

  • People still subscribe to or buy magazines (albeit not in the levels they once did).

  • People still watch network television (because have you tried to get anything beyond basic cable without Comcast demanding your kidney in payment? ‘Cause I’m rather attached to all my organs).

  • And snail mail jokes aside, people still rely on the US Postal service.

So just because the internet is exciting, new, and relatively cost effective (except for that high speed internet fee—damn you, Comcast!), it doesn’t reach everyone. Not yet, anyway.

And those it does reach? Well, they are getting jaded. Everyone and their brother are asking for an email address to sign up you up for the newest, hottest thing, and people are tired of it. They are also tired of Aunt Janny and her endless forwards and the electronic equivalents of the chain letter. (Who cares if I’ll have bad luck for seven years for not sending this on, I’m blocking you, Janny, and all you stand for!)

I want to hear from you guys. I want to know what virtual advertising has turned into real sales for you and whether you did the buying online or in a bookstore (or if you at least tried the bookstore first only to strike out because they didn’t have the title). I want to know if you’ve noticed books appearing faster in a store because of virtual buzz or if they don’t appear at all?

I want to know what will make you turn over your email address and how many different junk mail accounts you have that you never open.

And finally, I want to know how you think you can reach that group that doesn’t surf the net, if you think you can at all.

Let’s discuss how much impact virtual reality has in your real life and buying habits for the education of us all.


J. E. Patterson said...

The thing that most gets me to buy a book is a good review or interesting blog discussion. I do usually buy online (I have small children and don't get out much.) whether the review was online or in a print magazine (usually a specialist mag like Bitch, Camera Arts or Locus.) *Unless* it is a book where image quality is important, in which case I want to see it first.

The other thing that has actually affected my buying habits is a good, searchable online catalog at my local library. Now the books I'm not sure I want to own I can (often) have the library queue up for me, which means I buy a lot less crap. I don't think this means I buy fewer books, but am more focused in what I buy - if an author passes the library test several times, I'll buy their new books without checking reviews first.

nir said...

If someone I know and trust recommends a book, and it's a book I think I might be interested in, I'll at least look at it.

Whether that's on Amazon or in a bookstore depends on when/where I hear about it, whether there's an Amazon link provided, and whether my daughter wants to go to the mall that day/week and we end up in the bookstore. I do most of my book buying on Amazon. (sorry)

As far as email: I don't have any real junk accounts. I have four email accounts I use, each for their own purpose. There has to be a really good reason for me to give one of those out.

Anonymous said...

How timely. Today's Wall St Journal devotes an entire section to marketing and finding your audience, whether it be online or not.

I rarely buy a book new. I usually try to find it at a used book store or the library. If I like the author, then I venture to buying the next one the instant I can.

Eileen said...

Argh. I loathe the chain mail. Especially the kind that say poor young Johnny has some nasty foul medical condition and will die unloved if you don't pass it on. Hate that.

I am much more picky about where I send my email. I don't want to be on everyone's newsletter. Please stop. I look through the newspaper print reviews, sometimes I'll see something on line or the old favorite someone I know recommends it. I buy most at my local store- if it is a gift I usually go Amazon as it saves me having to wrap and pack to the post office.

lady t said...

I think that blogs are starting to become a viable force in promoting new titles,especially author blogs. For exmaple,there's a book due out next January called Finn by Jon Clinch who has a blog called the Horsehair Couch that discusses the progress of getting his book published. If you're wondering what it's like for a writer having his/her first book published and questions like,do you get to chose the cover art,typeface,etc.;it's an interesting read.

I'm seeing more and more authors out there openly engaging their readers online and making those word-of-mouth connections that filter out to the non internet readers,which is cool. One hand washes the other.

Robin Brande said...

I buy WAY too many books, and I always buy new because I actually want authors to get their money off me.

A lot of the books I buy are ones I first read about in the few magazines I subscribe to. A lot of them are titles I never would have known about otherwise.

Then there are sources like you, BSC. I bought Ayun Halliday's "No Feed Monkey!" solely because I read your interview with her.

Yes, please do contact Chris Anderson and interview him for your blog. The fact that you're already so passionate about "The Long Tail" will make that a great time for both of you.

I also buy books from other writers I've met or whose blogs I enjoy. In part I want to read what they've written, but in part I just want to support them.

SteveInLA13 said...

I'm pretty new to the whole blog thing, so my buying habits haven't been affected by it yet, though I've been tempted already by some recommendations I've read. I never buy anything online that I can find locally, whether at a chain or independent store, even if I can get it cheaper online. I don't know if that means I'm stupid, or just prefer interacting with people more than with my computer.

I rarely give out any of my (three) e-mail addresses, but have no problem whipping through my in-box and deleting mail that I know is unsolicited or that I don't want to read.

As for the marketing of books, well, I think that's always been a weak point of the industry. It's understandable given how many titles are released each year but frustrating to us booksellers nonetheless. And, I think publishers rely on us to carry the promotional torch for books. They know we'll read, fall in love with and handsell titles for them; and, our word-of-mouth is probably the most effective promotional tool they have. And, it's free.

The only advice I can offer on letting your unwired customers know what's buzzing around the internet is to make displays, or have a "The Next Big Thing" section in your store or newsletter. If they're not going to go online, you have to bring what's on there to them.

I did see an interesting bit on Shelf Awareness News on Friday about book trailers.( That seems like an interesting driection for book marketing to take, and one that I'd love to utilize in our store.


pacatrue said...

There are pretty much two ways I buy books. One is just by wandering around a book store and picking things up. For instance, I've been contemplating finishing a collection of short stories and novellas, but moping about the project because who buys collections of short stories? Nobody. But wait! Here I am in Border's and right on the table here I see a collection of short stories that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001! Hmm. I better take a look at this.

The other method is some sort of recommendation online. If a blog I already read for other reason mentions a book, I might think about it. Or if I am already buying a book at Amazon and it links to a similar book then I might buy it. Each of these things is very individual. I hardly ever go to some site and read reviews and try to find a new book. Instead, I am already there and a good book is mentioned by chance.

In sum, I browse in person (that's my favorite way because a good bookstore is my idea of a night out) or I network online.

Robin Brande said...

I can't rest until I fix this: The correct title is "No Touch Monkey!" Ahh. Feel better.

quiche said...

Most of the people I see are older and not very Internet savvy. They still rely on newspaper and magazine reviews. When we mention online shopping or e-mail they tend to freak out.

Anonymous said...

a) If an author I like a lot reviews another author he or she likes, I'm likely to remember the name, especially if the book itself sounds interesting, and I'd look for it in a bookstore.

b) If a book gets mentioned a lot on various blogs and LiveJournals, I might remember the name of the author, and look for it in a bookstore. I wouldn't go buy the book online, because I'd still want to pick the book up and read bits of it.

c) If an author of fan fiction I absolutely love publishes a pro novel, I will probably pick it up sight unseen, both online and at the bookstore. I haven't been disappointed so far.

Mary C

Shanna Swendson said...

I'll have to look into that book because it sounds in some ways like it hits similar material to The Tipping Point, which I found fascinating.

Generally, they say in marketing that it takes multiple impressions to have an impact, and that does seem to be the way I hear about books. If the first thing I hear doesn't just bowl me over entirely, then it merely goes into the mental database. If I then hear about it again and again from a variety of sources, then when I'm in the bookstore that book may jump out at me, and I'll take a look at it. It may take months, even with a book that's getting a lot of buzz, before something in my brain clicks to make me want to go looking for it. I hear about things from friends' blogs, reader blogs, blogs of other authors, message boards, newspaper or magazine reviews or ads (I almost never read online reviews until after I've read the book).

I've had a bit of success with my own Internet marketing through a few blog tour groups and my long-term activity in various fan groups (going back a decade) where I was pretty well-known. That helps for the fantasy side of my books. I'm having a harder time reaching the chick lit audience, which seems to be less active online. I don't know what real-world stuff within my means can reach them. Advertising in Glamour is the kind of thing your publisher has to do for you, and mine hasn't so far.

BuffySquirrel said...

Virtual buzz is just background noise. The more hype, the more disappointing the book will probably be. I find books on the shelf, and even then I'm often disappointed. Why are book blurbs written specifically to put me off? (Okay, I know they're not...but they do.)

Back to the secondhand shops. The books are no less disappointing, but at least they're cheaper.