Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Book's Lifecycle

As I prepare for another book launch, I thought it might be fun to do a little tongue-in-cheek look at the product life cycle stages of a book (also needed to do it for the marketing degree), an area where serendipity often rules, and where formal marketing is often not applied well. This will obviously vary depending on the genre and fame of the author (it’s definitely a brand game…the brand being the author or even the author’s pseudonym, such as Lemony Snicket). Prior to introduction is the pre-publication stage, which works through all the standard New Product Development elements of idea/concept/analysis/product dev’t (the 'writing’)/test marketing (call it the editing and submission – it often leads to re-writing or even back to the idea stage), and finally commercialisation, which includes such things as choosing a final title, size, layout, printing, and cover design.


The book has been launched. Most earnings at this stage are used to pay for the printing and editing costs and are therefore negligible (in many cases, they tend to stay negligable). At this point, low-cost activities like press releases, publicity events, review garnering (through sending out review copies), entering competitions, social networking, and media events on radio are combined with advertising and hand selling, in order to generate interest and reach prospective, targeted customers (taken from market plan and segmentation list) and motivate them to purchase the book. If you know what you’re doing, you’ll have done a lot of promotional work throughout the late pre-publication phase as part of commercialisation, so that reviews will be flowing in now, and people will have been anticipating your upcoming poetry book even more hotly than they're anticipating the new Matthew Riley novel (then you woke up).

Growth Stage

Online promotion is particularly important here as virtual book tours remain online permanently, and if people are talking about you, then it is at this stage that the word begins to spread. So doing really good promotional work in the introductory phase will start to pay off in this stage. At this point, a prize win would really come in handy. There are quite a few good prizes available, but of course many applicants, and winning is never guaranteed. Still, if you’ve produced a high quality product and entered competitions during the introduction phase, you might hit it big at the growth phase, and then Riley and Dan Brown had better watch out. Failing that, a few innovative readings (gimmicks like pole dancing while reading your poetry or having a launch in Second Life for example) can also help generate buzz in the right places. Once you’ve reached the break even point and profits are starting to be generated, you can invest a bit in promotion and try to get into trade shows, great book trailers, some small scale touring, and advertisements to sustain the growth. Of course, no party lasts forever, and Dan Brown is taking up all the shelf space in the bookstores and no one buys poetry (except your relatives, and neighbours and work colleagues and they’ve now all got copies), so sales slow down and the product enters the maturity phase. You’re onto your next book in any case, so you’ve stopped investing and are just raking in the residual profits (at 10% of the publisher’s wholesale price, that’s about $1 per book, so you should get a few cups of coffee). The cash cow is nourished and you can just milk it for as long as possible until sales peter out altogether. Or…you could shift your strategy and try looking at alternative pricing strategies, like heavy discounts or freebies ('buy a copy of my poetry book and I'll give you Angels and Demons for nothing'). You could do an Amazon ‘bestseller’ campaign. Or put the book on Kindle and do a new launch of the e-book. This might just create you new markets (especially if the ebook is really inexpensive or has pretty pictures you couldn't afford to put in the print version). You could find new users in a fringe market – for example, you could try being the first person ever to create a totally virtual poetry book with an avatar reading each poem outloud. If you got a good soundtrack and did the whole thing ‘live’, then it might just be novel enough to give your book a second life (2 puns in one sentence) and get you onto Today Tonight. You could have the book translated into different languages and capture the growing Madagascarian demand for scientific poetry. You could teach classes and make your book the required text. Or you could just let your book move on to the next phase (which will probably happen anyway).


Since you’ve got a day job and don’t have time to do any of these clever gimmick ideas, your sales eventually vanish and any books still on bookstore shelves are returned for a full credit. Readers are onto the next big thing and your name is history. So it’s time to ease off the promotion and move on to the next project. If you’ve got a few boxes of books in your wardrobe, you can donate them to a charity or library (literacy club/auctions, etc) to create goodwill, or you can give them to friends for birthday presents for the next 5 years, which should also give you more time to write since you'll no longer get invited to birthday parties. In this phase, your marketing will probably be reduced to minimal levels, but there may still be opportunities for sales in the future as other titles come out and more buzz is generated. Online promotional efforts tend to stay in place permanently, so that book trailer is still being checked out on YouTube, and your blogs are all still around. A few sales here and there may just get you the odd cup of coffee. Unlike corporate products, books don't have to maintained, unless you're with a big house that pulps you and erases your name from history (for more on that, read Carlos Ruiz Safron's The Angel's Game). If that happens, well, just write another book and start over. You probably weren't making much anyway.

Obviously the strategies needed for each stage have to be different as the market is continually changing around your product. Competition in this arena is fierce, and there's always someone else looking to create buzz (turn your head for a minute and your Twitter is deeply submerged). Some of the natural impetus around each phase will help keep things moving (keep Twittering) but as the product moves from introduction to growth to maturity to decline, it is important to change your strategy so as to take advantage of natural interests and investment opportunities and to help ease the transition as the market peters off. Like any business, you've got to balance the creation of new products (when is your next book coming out?) with the exploitation of existing ones and if you don't maintain the balance then your business will falter. The evidence generally comes in the form of sales or lack of them, and overall interest/responsiveness to campaigns so it's quite clear when you're transitioning from one phase to the next. It tends to happen organically. The one thing you can generally influence is how long you remain in each phase, but there's still a point when you know you've got to move on.

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