Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Wishful Thinking

Ever since I found myself (reluctantly) in the book marketing biz, I've been struck by what an unscientific leap of faith marketing is. I've always thought of marketing as a rather voodoo-ish discipline, one in which no one can show direct causality between efforts and results. The theory seems to be little more than "exposure is good." Where marketing books is concerned, the mantra inherent in every marketing, PR and distribution message is "Of course there are no guarantees." Some of the books that get reviewed in The New York Times go on to be bestsellers; others languish. True juggernauts like Harry Potter are rare, and it's unclear whether marketing activities can take any credit at all for that phenom. (It's rather wonderful, actually, that innate quality and readability seem to be at the root of Harry's success.) Only recognition by Oprah is a real magic bean and even those authors often have the disconcerting (I imagine) experience of watching the anointed title fly off bookshelves and then subsequent titles remain resolutely shelf-bound.

Basically, everyone hastens to tell publishers and authors that the book won't get anywhere unless people see it. This stands to reason, but the implicit corollary - that once people see it, they will buy it - is, it turns out, neither reasonable nor true. Not even when the exposure is highly positive and persuasive. I am amazed by how scattershot and unpredictable results are. They seem to defy logic and they make it very difficult to target and pursue sensible uses of marketing time and effort.

Further complicating matters is the seemingly infinite array of marketing middlemen. These erstwhile folks have come up with thousands of ways in which you can pay them to generate exposure for your product - no guarantees, of course, but it's all based on the premise that exposure is good. Take the following example:

Book Distributor: Let us exhibit your title at the XYZ Regional Booksellers Convention, which we'll gladly do for [insert price - usually between $100 and $650; i.e., not enough to scare you away, but not nominal].

Publisher/Author: That sounds interesting. What kind of results do you see from this kind of exhibition?

BD: There are no guarantees, of course, but lots of booksellers will see the book. It's great exposure.

P/A: Of course, but how do the exhibited books do in the weeks and months after the show?

BD: We can't measure those results. There's no way to know which exposure led to which sales.

P/A: Well, ok, but how do exhibited books do, say, in the six months following the show when compared to similar books in your catalog that aren't exhibited? Can you show any measurable benefit, even if you can't draw a straight line between exhibition and sales?

BD: We don't track those statistics.

P/A: (internally: So basically this is just a way for you to make $$) Aloud: So how do your customers typically do the cost-benefit analysis to determine if the benefits of exhibition justify the cost?

BD: If people don't see your title, they can't buy it. This is a standard book marketing tactic and it's what marketing budgets are for.
Exposure is good.

Marketing obviously has aspects and players that sometimes make it more of a racket than anything else, but even leaving that aside, the basic premise appears to be: If no one sees your book, no one will buy it, so, q.e.d., it must be good to put it in front of people. This adds up, logically speaking, to:
the absence of not green is green - a fallacy immediately apparent to everyone who's taken Logic 101. I'm as much a believer in "nothing ventured, nothing gained" as the next guy, but this marketing baloney is irritating me. I'm just supposed to make the leap of faith, I guess. But the only justification I'm getting for believing that if I put it out there, people will come is that if I don't put it out there, people won't come. Sorry, but that's just not doing it for me.

1 comment:

Lea said...

Well, clearly I've wasted my journalism degree! I KNEW I should've resisted the pull of the Dark Side. (snicker) Of course, if I'd gone into the newspaper business I'd likely be out of a job by now... so it's hard to say for sure.

Thank you for keeping this marketer on her toes, Debra! Love the post. :)