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Kayla Wendt

ENG 327

Prof. Wilkie


Marketing & Publishing in the Digital Age

The Publishing industry has had an extensive and storied history, going from handwritten

bibles to using printing presses, and big retail chains. Many of these things have shaped the

industry, but the changes caused by the digital age are still being uncovered as many of these

effects are still taking shape. One force of change that can be overlooked is marketing.

Marketing has had a great effect on publishing during the digital age.

The storied history of both fields come together neatly during this time. The most blatant

example of the two coming together in the digital age is social media. Visuals are a big part of

this, so book cover design is important. Things that were typically a publishers job, scouting

new talent, have now been heavily influenced by marketing as have who goes on book tours.

Way before that, publishing was a prestigious thing. Books were expensive thus books

were prestige items, signs of wealth. Eventually this changed as the cost of making books went

down. This happened while concurrently going through two district phases of mergers and

growth; one during the early 1960s until the early 1980s and the other from the early 1980s to

present day (Thompson). The second phase, saw the growth in big retail chains allowing for big

growth, but then soon followed by industry disrupters Walmart and more importantly Amazon.
Amazon has made any book easier to accesses then every thought possible. While the

ease of access has helped publishers reach a bigger audience, it has also hurt many of them due

to the sites ability to allow authors to self-publish. Publishing houses are no longer the

gatekeepers they once were. With this new ability to authors to skip the middle man, Publishers

should be taking advice from marketing and focus on adding value to authors

One of the key functions of a publisher is to add value. Adding value can be done through

a variety of channels. Content acquisition and list-building, financial investment and risk-taking,

content development, quality control, and management and coordination are all notable ways in

which this is done (Thompson). The last way a publisher adds value is utilizing sales and


As stated before, publishers can add value through marketing. Marketing as a field is

often thought to have begun to emerge in the 20th century. While elements of marketing, like

store signs and even some printed advertisement, have been around for much longer, it was often

thought of as an integrated element of the business. The first known advertising agency, William

Taylor, began in 1786, but this was a definite outlier. With the turn of the twentieth centuries,

this changed due to the increased ease of transportation in both people, ideas, and information;

this created a bigger mass market than ever before. This is when there was a definitive

establishment as advertising agencies and thus the creation of the marketing field as it is still

known today. It was only just before this that the definition of marketing in a contemporary

sense, a process of moving goods from producer to consumer with an emphasis on sales and

advertising, was acknowledged (

One of the biggest game changers in the digital age is social media. Merriam-Webster

defines social media as forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social
networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share

information, ideas personal messages, and other content (such as videos) (Merriam-Webster).

Throughout the years, social media has taken many shapes: in the early to mid-2000s,

most would think of websites like myspace or online chatrooms like AIM. In the 2010s things

have changed a lot, myspace is never mentioned as a commonly used network and AIM is

shutting down after 20 years on December 15th.

Now a day, Facebook is the long-reigning most popular social network worldwide

(Statista). This site started by Mark Zuckerberg in February of 2004 has users create profiles,

connect with friends, and share photos, statuses, and more. Statista states that there are 2.07

billion monthly active users on the site as of the third quarter of 2017 (Statista),

While Facebook is still the most popular, many other social networks are still very

important. Twitter is another social media staple that focuses on sharing micro-blogs, also known

as tweets, it has 69 million monthly active users as of the 3rd quarter of 2017, and that is only

users in the United States of America (Statista). Statista projects that in 2020 this number will

surpass 70 million (Statista).

Social networks that appear to reach out to a younger demographic have been on the rise

for some time now, these include Instagram and Snapchat. Instagram is a primarily mobile

platform in which users edit and share pictures and videos, with the recent introduction of stories

that exist for only 24-hours. In September of 2017, Statista puts the number of monthly active

users at 800 million making it one of the most popular social networks worldwide (Statista).

One of the newest and most popular social networks is Snapchat. This mobile-only

platform allows users to send pictures, videos, and more to friends that disappear once opened. A
key feature, that both Instagram and Facebook have since stolen, is its story allowing one to blast

those pictures and videos for 24 hours before they disappear. While the platform only has

worldwide 178 million daily active users, it is considered the most popular social networks for

teenagers in the United States with 39% of teens polled stating it was the most important to them


While YouTube is not the typical idea of a social network because it is often used as

more of a platform than a networking site, it is worth including. Since its first video was

uploaded in 2005, YouTube has gone on to have per day 30 million visitors that watch

practically 5 billion videos that equal to one billion hours watched (YouTube). Millennials make

up the most common user with the sites main demographic being a majority of 18 to 34-year-


These social media sites can be a cheap and effective way to market a book. Making an

account is free and so is posting; paying for more visibility is also reasonable comparing the

price to reach. Once reached, a company can easily build a brand, build a stronger relation and

interactive communication with customers (Beqiri). This is the main reason why marketers use

this platform, especially when able to get to a niche audience.

One can reach these niche audiences by being on the right platform, connecting with the

right influencers, and good content. One of the easiest ways to connect with the general book-

loving audience is Goodreads. Goodreads is a social media platform specifically made for

sharing what books people are or want to read. It connects readers to both books and authors.

Having an author participate in events or Ask the Author has been a successful way to generate

buzz. Ending up on their annual Goodreads Choice Awards can boost this even more.
Getting influencers to read, review, or recommend a book is another great way to boost a

books sales. An influencer is someone with a strong presence and following on social media,

thus they have influence on their audience. The most common way to do this is sending a copy

of a book or PR, public relations, package to one who matches the book or authors brand. Even

if they dont read it, they will give the book a shout out for their own content.

Influencers arent the only ones who need content. Good content is a great marketing

strategy because it creates interactions which then creates a connection and loyalty with the

reader. This can be done on various platforms depending on what is being posted. Popular

examples of this include exclusive content or first few chapters on Wattpad, AMA (ask me

anything) on Reddit, book tour vlogs on YouTube, and book cover reveal on Facebook or


The old saying goes dont judge a book by its cover. While this is a great metaphor, it is

frequently disregarded in a literal sense. Just like movie posters, book covers are supposed to

grab your attention and make you want to buy into whatever it may be. The director of Picador

Creative, Henry Sene Yee, once said that good book cover designs, especially in relation to

physical copies over e-readers, theyre like candy. Theyre so inviting, they look easy to read,

and they feel great in your Hand (Biedenharn).

A tread that was noted by Entertainment Weekly in 2015, and deserving of a side note

here, was the string of cover art redesigns of classic titles like The Virgin Suicides, Alice in

Wonderland, and The Violent Bear it Away. There were and still are many reasons to revamp an

old cover, for example commissioning new editions in a publishers backlog or a book entering

the public domain.

Henry Sene Yee explained it the best when he said, someone asked me, Why do we

have to redesign Jane Austen again and again? And Im like, you know the people who bought

the first edition in the 1800s? Theyre gone. Theyre not buying another copy Every generation

is a new generation that has not read Shakespeare (Biedenharn). Yees sentiment has continued

to live on as new cover art for old stories is still extremely common and found everywhere

within the publishing field.

Another big trend that has been heavily documented on one of Goodreads listopia since

2011 is eerily similar cover art. Same cover, different book shows that there is a hoard of

strikingly similar book covers. While many of these covers only have design elements in

common, there are a numerous amount that has the exact same image. These images are

manipulated in various ways, like flipping, recoloring, layering, cropping, and more, to attempt

to give the allusion of a different image. A quick survey of these books starts to show a pattern

emerge; most of these books are young adult novels or romance novels and more than likely they

are published by a smaller publishing house or even self-published.

The last cover art trend is the use of celebrities on the cover. Over the last few years,

there appears to be an increased use of famous people, especially youtubers, in both pictures and

names because these people have been asked to write books by a publisher by the means of


A scout is someone who looks for talent for a publisher and if the uptick in celebrities on

cover has indicated anything, its that there an increased importance in having an already

established following sometimes in lieu of talent (Thompson). While there are genuinely talented

celebrities making quality content, like Chrissy Teigen with her cookbooks, Aziz Ansari with

Modern Romance, or any of Carrie Fishers books, many of these famous authors did not even
write a book, optioning instead for a ghostwriter, the most notorious example of this being Zoe

Sugg, otherwise known by her channel name Zoella, with her book Girl Online and subsequent


Despite if it is of actual substance or quality one of these books might be, it is quite

common for celebrities books to sell out in various stores and end up on the New York Times

bestseller list which is why scouts continue to tap these people for new material or at least his or

her brand.

An unfortunate side-effect of this is the decrease of full-time authors. Many celebrities

are getting multi-title deals leaving less room in the budget for advances for writers, especially

within the childrens book area. Novelist Donal Ryan said in an interview with The Guardian

stated that its a tricky time in publishing at the moment, I met a lot of writers last year who

were having a hard time and in negotiations they were finding it harder to get the advances they

got a couple of years ago (Kean).

A common marketing strategy for authors was the use of book tours, but with a decreased

interest in writers, this practice is less common. Mass media, in general, seems, to be

disinterested, media like the Boston Globe, San Diego Union-Tribune, New York Time,

Washington Post, Today Show, Good Morning America, and more have cut down or gotten rid of

their book features (Thompson). The author of Merchants of Culture has even noted having

conversations with various producers that all generally said something along the lines of Oh,

the author talking head? Were so over that. Novelists? Nobodys interested in novelists

Book tours are now seemingly reserved for those celebrity authors: Youtubers announce

shows, that sell out in a blink of an eye, tv and movie stars will do Q and As, and a few big-

name authors will do signings.

Some authors have taken it upon themselves to change this elitism. Jane Friedman points

out the power of small communities and the word of mouth in her article First Go Narrow, Then

Go wide. As the subtitle suggests, it is all about leveraging local communities to get authors on

to the bestseller list instead of focusing on the mass markets. A successful example of this is Jeff


For the launch of his book Appalachian Odyssey, about hiking the Appalachian Trail, the

author Jeff Ryan toured 34 L.L. Bean stores, plus various libraries, over five months and

40,00 miles in his VW Westfalia. Along the way, he landed radio interview on various

travel blogs and websites, including USA Today. His book is now in its second printing,

and he has two more books on the way. While this may seem like a national approach, it

started off very narrow: targeting L.L. Bean customers-the perfect demographic for his

book (Friedman).

In conclusion, Publishing has transformed throughout its history, being shaped by every

technological revolution. Along the way, marketing has helped push these changes from cover

designs to who gets published and book tours to social media.

Both in the marketing and publishing world, it can be difficult to imagine what new

advancements there will be. Technology is now progressing faster than ever before. One of the

most popular ideas discussed in marketing is the use of big data and analytics that allow for more

targeted, niche audiences. This could allow for publishing agencies, especially well curated and
specifically branded ones, to flourish in the future, proving that marketing has a definite impact

on publishing in the digital age.

Works Cited
Beqiri, Gonxhe. "Marketers and socail media marketing." Proceedings of the Multidiscilinary Academic
Conference. Prague: MAC Praque Consulting, 2015. 91-98.

Biedenharn, Isabella. New Looks For Old Books. New York City, New York, 20 November 2015. Magazine. marketing. December 2017. Web site. 5 December 2017.

Friedman, Jane. "First Go Narrow, Then Go Wide." Book life (2017): 2. Article.

Kean, Danuta. As celebrity books boom, professional authors are driven out of full-time work. London, 7
February 2017. newspaper.

Merriam-Webster. Social Media. 7 December 2017. Website.

Statista. Most popular social networks of teenagers in the United States from Fall 2012 to Spring 2017.
Hamburg, Germany, September 2017. Web Site.

. Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 3rd quarter 2017 (in millions). Hamburg,
September 2017. Website.

. Number of monthly active Instagram users from January 2013 to September 2017 (in millions).
Hamburg, Germany, September 2017. Web Site.

. Number of monthly active Twitter users in the United States from 1st quarter 2010 to 3rd quarter
2017 (in millions). Hamburg, September 2017. Website.

Thompson, John B. Merchants of Culture. New York City: Plume, 2012. Book.

YouTube. YouTube for Press. San Bruno, CA, 2017. Web page.