Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Literary Marketing

Question: how will literary books be marketed in the future? Marketing, for most literary publishers, is conservative and traditional, with small investment based on the expected small returns (or figments of large returns). Particularly for literary works, it’s often hard to see how the investment of, say, $25,000 or $50,000 could make a long-term difference in most literary books or authors, even though the book itself may have great literary merit. And where would such capital come from? A publisher once told me that his market research is “I publish the book and I figure out the market for that book when I see how many people buy it.” Not too many industries work this way, especially in the “long tail” era. Some of this has changed. The Literary Ventures Fund, where I am on the board, for example, is trying a few new measures. Both small and large publishing businesses have begun to embrace more contemporary market research and techniques since, although the initial investment of both financial and human capital may seem high, subsequent ones amortize them.
With the possibility now of targeted marketing, small marketing, guerrilla marketing, viral marketing, market research, and the vast opportunities to take advantage of the digital environment, perhaps the sensibility of the future will also shift from in-house publishing personnel making all the decisions to focus-group-based decisions, or even broader. If, as analysts suggest, the digital age brings with it a loss of personal autonomy, replaced perhaps by small-group autonomy, perhaps open source marketing campaigns could result. Yet if the literary novel in particular is the last bastion of the individual voice, can marketing based on a multiple perspective broaden its audience? And could the unthinkable happen: the editing (or even creation) of a literary novel based on early e-list feedback, the way one develops cars and edits movies? Forget print-on-demand. How about write-on-demand?

No comments: