Is Book Marketing for the Birds?

[by way of ArtsJournal] In this Inversion article, Book promoter John Eklund asks why the publishing business can’t be handled better, like, say, the Wal-Mart business.

“There are some really smart people in the book business,” he says, “which is why it’s such a mystery that so little is known about the basics, such as why anybody buys a book. . . . The fact is, nobody knows why anybody buys a given book at a given moment.” Having said that, he spends the article ranting against most book marketing, disliking even personal recommendations, and praises a few book he likes. He concludes advising that we make our own list of “the found, the overheard, the stumbled-upon and the forgotten. Superb books are plentiful in every bookstore and library.”

Because Elklund’s article is titled, “Don’t point that Ad at me: the business of books is bad for reading,” I assume his point isn’t that book marketing will never be as efficient as Wal-Mart’s. I assume he truly is saying that all the marketing techniques he dislikes are bad for everyone. Book clubs, online comparison profiles, and personal recommendations are all bad. If that is the case, then Elklund exemplifies the cause for his complaint. If idiosyncratic people like him are leading the book industry, then it’s no wonder why their marketing efforts go awry. I don’t think Elklund himself can follow the tastes described in his article and accomplish anything as a book representative.

Articles like this make me wonder if the bulk of complaining about publishing’s failures comes from myopic critics like this. Where is the sin in offering a recommendation based on past purchases? Where does his distain for readers come from, seen in statements like this: “Book clubs are loathsome. To spend an evening with an earnest group of amateurs in a structured discussion about a novel I’ve been assigned to read strikes me as a waste of good reading time.”

Though I am an amateur, let me offer this recommendation for book marketers. Personal recommendations are king. Be it a bookseller, a friend, or a celebrity, the average reader will listen to a trusted individual when he says, “I found this book interesting.” Better when the claim is “I love this book.” That is Oprah’s appeal. She’s trusted, for better or worse, and she loves the books she recommends. If that idea is obnoxious to you, keep your complaints to yourself, please.

By the way, if you enjoy fantasy reading, take a look at this one from Lars Walker. Just a personal recommendation.