I mentioned a while ago that I still had some things I wanted to write about the Society of Young Publishers’ Careers Conference waaaay back in November; finally I have a spare hour to do so.  I want to write about the talk I heard from Clare Morrison, a Senior Marketing Executive at Random House, because I found what she had to say very interesting, very inspirational, and very thorough.  It’s not my intention to repeat word for word what she said about working in Marketing, but rather to try and give an overall impression of what it was all about, and why I found it so eye-opening.

Marketing is essentially about informing the target audience about your product and influencing them to buy it: essentially, advertising books.  Publicity is closely related to it, but the crucial difference is money: Marketing has a budget to spend, whereas publicists try and generate news stories and reviews of a book without spending money to do so.

There are two aspects to Marketing: the ‘sell-in’ and the ‘sell-out’.  The ‘sell-in’ is focused within the trade, ie on bookshops.  Marketing will liase with the sales teams to ensure they have a full knowledge of the product to promote it to bookshops and encourage them to stock, promote and sell the book.  The ‘sell-out’ targets the consumer – the readers – directly, trying to encourage and persuade them to walk into the bookshop, or click through to the online retailer, to actually buy the book.

There are obviously a huge number of different ways to do this, and one of the things that appealed to me was how creative it seemed.  Marketing in Publishing is essentially advertising and promotion, so you constantly have to be developing new and more creative ways of making your book stand out above the competition.  Of course, different types of books will be marketed in very different ways; academic publishers still need to pursuade libraries and universities to buy their textbook over a competitors,.  It’s in the name: Marketing is about identifying your intended market of readers, raising their awareness of your product, and influencing them to buy it.

This can be done through: catalogues, posters, promotional items (notebooks, mugs, pencils, bookmarks), advertising space in trade and consumer magazines, bill-boards, Underground posters, bus posters, press articles, author and publisher websites, social networking websites, Youtube, reading groups, TV and film tie-ins… and that’s just for starters.  Nowadays, the internet and other interactive media are becoming increasingly important for marketing; thus, a Marketing department might launch an online competition inviting readers to design the cover of a forthcoming book; or they might combine traditional and new techniques by advertising on posters a number to be texted if you want to download the first chapter of a book from a website.  They might also go even more wacky and ‘arty’ by setting up a bed strewn with books in the middle of a London square or having ‘live’ installations in bookshop windows: anything unusual to grab peoples’ attention and get them interested.

Marketing appeals to me because the whole reason I want to work in Publishing is because I love books.  Marketing is the side of Publishing that allows you to share that passion for books with your readers: you are promoting something you love.  The creative element is obviously appealing too; in Editorial you help an author shape and develop their words; in Marketing you work with the design team to create engaging and innovative, often visual, campaigns to draw the reader in.  It also seems to be a sector of publishing which would be very varied.  You would have to work with a huge number of different contacts both inside and outside publishing, and no two projects would ever be the same.  There is obviously a lot more to it than just swanning around designing posters, and I would think you would have to be very business orientated as well:  you have to be focused on your aims, know your product and your market inside out, and tailor your creativity accordingly.

Nevertheless, it is definitely something I can see myself doing, enjoying, and being good at, for the same reasons that Editorial also appeals: the mixture of skills and ideas you would have to have; the blend of innovative managerial, business, and financial decisions which would have to be made with confidence and creativity.

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I’ve been reading a couple of different things about sales and returns and discounting recently.  We’re all familiar with the 3 for 2 tables in Waterstones, but do any of us ever stop to think about what that actually costs the publisher and the author?

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the actual figures and percentages of it, but I understand the general gist.  When a publisher sells a bookseller a load of books, it is on a sale-or-return basis; if the bookseller is unable to sell those books to the general public, the publisher has to buy them back, thus loosing the profit they made from selling them in the first place.  The principle of this is to prevent the booksellers from having unmanageable piles of unsellable stock, but it is not ideal for the publisher.  It makes it much harder for them to predict their profit margins and therefore to plan for the future, especially in smaller publishers where returns could end up wiping out their whole years profit and destroying them.

This is all tied in with the complicated issue of discounts.  Publishers apparently sell their books to booksellers at incredibly high discounts (compared to the cost of production) which obviously, again, eats into their profit.  This seems to be the only way booksellers are able to make it worth their while buying in bulk.  Without the safety net of being able to return unsold stock, they won’t want to buy books from a publisher unless they are even more heavily discounted.  So there seems to be no way out of the vicious circle: Publishers can’t sell books at even more heavily discounted rates on a no-return basis because then there will be very little profit left.

Drastic new ways of thinking are clearly needed, so HarperStudio’s new innovative deal with Border’s to sell them books on a heavily discounted, non-returnable basis, splitting the profit 50-50 between the author and publisher rather than paying the author on a percentage-royalty, seems extremely interesting to me; hopefully it will work out and more publishers will be able to follow suit!

Here are all the places I’ve been reading about this, with more detail in most cases!

e-Reads blog: Borders to try non-returnable – possibility world will not end.

e-Reads blog: Is there a better way to compensate authors?

e-Reads blog: HarperStudio President responds to Author Compensation post

Newsstand Forum: No Returns? Economics, Digital Media spurring new Book Publishing models

Snowblog: Returns

Galleycat: Indie Publisher Suing Borders for $1million for excessive returns

(ie it has been claimed that Borders overordered with the intention of returning most of the books in order to recoup cash, or something along those lines…)

Bookseller: Border’s Inc to defend Law Suit

Sowblog: Crimbophobia – the impact of promotional discounts on independent publishers

Last week I had to hand in a 500 word proposal detailing what my final year dissertation will be on.  In this dissertation I am combining all my interests by looking at the nature of ‘publishing’ in Anglo-Saxon England and analysing whether it is in fact possible to see any such thing.  So here is a slightly extended version of my proposal (the quote in the title is from King Alfred’s Preface Letter to his Old English Translation of the Pastoral Care, a good translation of which is to be found in this book by Keynes and Lapidge):

These Books Most Necessary for all Men to Know:

An Analysis of the Nature of the ‘Publishing Industry’ in Three Case Studies from Anglo-Saxon England

The modern publishing industry is dedicated to recording ideas, reproducing them – whether in print or other media – and selling the reproductions. It is run for profit, and operates within the constraints of the contemporary economic and legal framework. To describe book production and dissemination in Anglo-Saxon England as a ‘publishing industry’ is therefore anachronistic: there were few of the processes seen in the modern industry as most of these processes developed only after the invention of printing.

It is nevertheless possible to evaluate Anglo-Saxon book production with the concept of a ‘publishing industry’ in mind. My essay will be divided into three thematic sections: The Commissioning, Authorship and Editing of Texts and Manuscripts; The Design and Production of Manuscripts; The Dissemination and Use of Texts and Manuscripts. Each process will be carefully defined. I will distinguish between a text – the written words – and a manuscript – the physical object or book. ‘Editing’ encompasses both the creative role of an ‘editor’ in helping the author formulate ideas into written words (although in our case studies author and editor often overlap) and the corrective role of a ‘copy-editor’ or ‘proof-reader’. ‘Production’ refers to the physical creation of a manuscript, but also describes the overall process from the inception of the idea to the completion of the physical manuscript. ‘Dissemination’ covers both the physical distribution of manuscripts and the cultural spread of ideas.

Within each of these thematic sections I will analyse the nuances of these processes and how they can be defined by an examination of three case studies. My first case study is Bede at Wearmouth-Jarrow in the mid-eighth century, an example of an ‘in-house author’. His works were popular – as evidenced by the requests for copies from the missionary bishops Boniface and Lul. It has been argued that the demand for Bede’s works was a driving factor in the development of Phase II Insular Minuscule script. Here we can see the processes of authorship, production – in the possibly conscious script development – and dissemination – in the number of Bedan manuscripts with continental provenance.

The second case study is the translation and editing of the Old English Pastoral Care by King Alfred and his scholars at the end of the ninth century, and the production of later manuscripts of this text. The Preface Letter to this translation indicates Alfred’s purpose: commissioning a text for a specific purpose and a specific audience. He intended for all young men in the country to be taught to read English, and wished to provide the most ‘necessary books’ translated from Latin into English for them to learn from. Textual and palaeographical research on the surviving manuscripts of the Old English Pastoral Care has led to debate about the manner in which this translation was formulated and written down, and about its later dissemination and use. The precise role of the scribe has been questioned – ‘mindless amanuensis, copy-editor or editor in chief’?

Thirdly I will examine Bishop Leofric of Exeter’s scriptorium in the mid-eleventh century. The donations lists and ownership inscriptions which allow an unusually high number of manuscripts to be associated with Leofric’s library also suggest that Exeter had an unusually active scriptorium at this time. Drage’s analysis of the scripts of all the manuscripts associated with Leofric has allowed her to identify at least 11 scribes working in Leofric’s scriptorium, and about 13 manuscripts which were a product of this scriptorium. These manuscripts were not newly authored texts, but new manuscript copies of texts necessary for the everyday duties of a bishop and his household. It has been argued, however, that the high number of Old English manuscripts surviving from Leofric’s scriptorium suggest a more than usual concern for the provision of practical and suitable texts for his bishopric. Here, therefore, again, we can see the influence of one man ‘commissioning’ specific texts for a specific purpose and audience.

I hope then to draw together all of my case studies and themes in order to come to some conclusions about the nature of ‘publishing’ in each of the case studies. Although the terminology of modern publishing will be useful by analogy to describe the processes of book production in Anglo-Saxon England, it is not my main purpose to compare the Anglo-Saxon era to the modern day, but rather to consider and analyse the processes, functions and nature of Anglo-Saxon book production and ‘publication’ in their own right.

Another interesting article I read this week about cataloguing your library of books online.  There are already a few sites and applications out there which allow you to do this, such as the Visual Bookshelf application on Facebook, or Librarything.com .

The benefit and interest of such sites is that it’s a facility for sharing your reading interests with other readers, allowing you to review and discuss your favourite books, make links with others who have enjoyed the same books as you, and through them to recommend and be recommended other books you might like.  It’s basically a global online book club, and just one of the really interesting ways in which publishing is moving into the new millennium, proving, in my opinion, that there will always be room for the humble printed book in our new digitalised era.

The problem with the sites that already exist, however, is that you have to enter each title in your library individually.  Given that those most likely to use these sites are those most likely to be avid readers with extensive collections of books, you can imagine that this becomes very time-consuming.  I’ve only managed to get round to adding 15 or so titles to my Visual Bookshelf on Facebook and those titles are far from representative of my whole library.  So it was interesting to hear about a new site which is being trialled at the moment: Book Rabbit.

It differs from the other sites mentioned in several ways.  First of all, it will have a commercial function, with users being able to order books through the site or to place orders with their local bookshops, but it also aims to be a flexible online community of readers.  So rather than having to laboriously add your books in one by one, you will apparently be able to take a photograph of your bookshelf, upload it, and with some fancy technology Book Rabbit will somehow be able to read the titles on the spines of your books and add them in automatically  (of course, I would have to rearrange my shelves first so that all my books would actually be visible, they’re a bit higgldy-piggldy at the moment!).  Then you can create a network with other readers who have at least one other book in common with you, and actually ‘browse’ their shelves and get their recommendations.  You are also able to define and categorise your books yourself, so that if you consider a book normally pidgeonholed as ‘science-fiction’ to also be a really good ‘romance’, you can say so, thus potentially introducing readers to genres and books they would never normally have picked up in a shop.  There will also be features such as video interviews with authors.

I think it sounds like a really interesting concept, and something I would definitely try.  It seems to combine so many of today’s big phenomenons: online social networking and marketing, youtube style videos and user-led content.  It is good to see people in the publishing industry being inventive with the (relatively) new media of the internet, and making use of it in a creative way, rather than just bemoaning that the digital era will surely be the end of printed books.  I think this shows that it definitely doesn’t have to be, but that with new technologies publishing can expand and diversify in exciting and profitable ways.  It will be interesting to see what happens when Book Rabbit develops past its beta stage and is made public in April.

This sort of links in with the debate about e-Books and digital readers such as Amazon’s Kindle, but I’ll leave my thoughts on that for another time.

The Publishing News magazine this week had an article about the overall economic growth of the book market in 2007.  Now, I make no claims to fully understand the economic statistics, but a couple of things really stood out:

‘Volume growth came in particular from hardback fiction (+19%) … The growth in hardback fiction came mainly from the adult edition of Harry Potter – excluding that title, the sector grew 4% by volume in 2006′

‘The value of children’s book purchases increased by 11%.  HP7 drove the increase in the children’s book market.  Excluding Harry Potter, spending on children’s titles was down 4%, and volume purchases flat.’

If I’m interpreting this correctly, then I think it is incredible that a single title (or a single series, rather, as it doesn’t specify HP7 alone) could account for 15% of volume sales in adult hardback fiction.  It just shows how powerful the Harry Potter phenomenon has been, and that is not necessarily a bad thing – I love the series as much as the next person.  But I also think that it is a shame that once you have removed Harry Potter, spending on children’s books was down – there has been so much hype about Harry Potter getting children to read who hadn’t been interested in reading before, but if that interest does not spread into other authors, then it is a limited success.  There are so many fantastic children’s authors out there, many of whom are in some ways superior to J. K. Rowling but whose books would probably appeal to a similar audience (I’m thinking of Diana Wynne Jones, The Edge Chronicles series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddel, and Tamora Pierce, to name just a few of my favourites) who deserve a larger share of the market (although admittedly, those I’ve named are all pretty successful in their own right).  And in general, it is so important to get children reading proper books, rather than just endless Mary-Kate and Ashley style spin-offs which take very little time to read and are probably never re-read.

So while I think the Harry Potter phenomenon is a fantastic thing in many ways, and while the statistics above demonstrate well the continuing power of books, lets hope that the children who were so enchanted by Harry continue to be inspired by other authors now that the last book is finished.