Friday, March 18, 2005

SXSW and Non-Traditional Marketing

Having just returned from the Interactive portion of SXSW, I am convinced of two things: SXSW Interactive is a gathering of amazing people and I need to start writing my own blog. I went to the conference hoping to seed the book WHORES ON THE HILL with bloggers and other "influencers" who might enjoy the novel and talk about it online. I also wanted to meet as many people as I could and develop some productive relationships. It's hard to know at this point how successful the trip was, but regardless of the outcome (and my execution of the plan) it was a good idea.

My job at Vintage and Anchor Books is to research and develop new ways of marketing and publishing books, to identify new channels for promotion and sales, and to organize alternative marketing campaigns - and by "alternative" the book publishing world often means "online." Examples of what I do are organizing and launching a fan club for
Alexander McCall Smith, offering a "waiting room copy" of OVERCOMING DYSLEXIA to pediatricians so that parents would see the book while waiting for the doctor, and arranging book give-aways with popular bloggers. My job is to take non-traditional ideas, buzzword = outside-the-box, and turn them into feasible plans. More often than not these ideas are just common sense - pediatricians and parents have a vested interest in the reading development of children! - but in the current state of publishing, there's little (if any) infrastructure to reach outlets that are not mainstream media and traditional book retail.

My job is the first of its kind that I've ever heard of, but I can't imagine it will be the last. Given the changes in the marketplace (in nearly all forms of media), most large companies could probably benefit from having someone to fill in gaps left by the traditional means of business - especially since those gaps are growing as the industry changes. But I sense that many who've worked in the media business are a little confused, if not intimidated, by the changes happening. Most of the change has developed from the ground up by a younger, more tech-savvy generation that has a greater interest in creating new means of communication rather than explaining what it has already done. And for good reason - their peers get it, and the older business people who don't are often happy to throw money at them so they can feel assured they are keeping pace with new technology.

Take for example something Tom Anderson of
MySpace said at SXSW. In short, he said that MySpace has more money than it knows what to do with because companies are spending so much to advertise on his site. Why? MySpace is the #7 most trafficked site on the internet behind Google at #6. Tom went on to advise audience members NOT to advertise on MySpace, but to actually use the site, open a FREE account and use it - he promised the return would be hundreds of times more valuable. The problem is that takes work, time, and some creative thought as to how MySpace can work for you. It's easier to throw money into an ad than try to understand this new, "cool" medium.

You can call that laziness, but it's more than that - it's also a generalized fear that something new can't be understood. I'm not a very tech-savvy person (a point that was made painfully clear to me by speaking to people at SXSW), but I understood that if I didn't try to put myself and my company into the mix, we would either miss opportunities completely or have to spend a lot of money just to hang on in the periphery. The irony is that the people I work with think I'm very web-savvy. I'm only smart enough to know that I don't know very much, and that my company has a long way to go if it really wants to modernize itself.

That said, Vintage and Anchor can take some consolation in the fact that I seemed to be the only person there from a major book publisher, which is precisely what I expected and part of the reason for being there. SXSW is a music, film, and interactive conference - there's nothing about it that focuses on books, and therefore most publishers are completely ignorant to it. But here's where the utter common sense of non-traditional marketing comes into play - SXSW is not only vastly populated with people who like to read, it's a virtual epicenter of "influencers" - you know the people who talk about things they like and influence others to go out and buy those things. In my opinion, these people are more important in today's market because they survive on their credibility with people who communicate with them - something mainstream media has lost almost entirely in recent years. Being the only person there promoting books meant that I stood out to everyone I spoke to - people seemed almost relieved that I wasn't another person pushing a website, a service, or a band - and the fact that I probably handed them a free book to read made them all the happier.

This is non-traditional marketing. And who knows, I got a lot of business cards from people who said they had a writing project for which they were seeking a publisher. Perhaps this could also generate some non-traditional publishing as well.


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