How University Presses Need to Improve Their Marketing [Smart Set]

Smart Set

Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I share three smart pieces worth reading about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.

“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams


Direct-to-Consumer Marketing for University Press Books by Joseph Esposito

Publishing industry consultant Joe Esposito has released an in-depth, researched report on what’s happening (or not) with academic publshers’ direct marketing to readers. (Download the PDF.) Such sales are only at 1-3% of their business today, and Esposito argues there’s potential for a much higher direct-to-consumer sales percentage if presses could/would:

  • More fully understand web marketing and optimize their websites for building traffic
  • Do better “marketing in the stream” (better use of social media tools)
  • Become skilled at content strategy & content marketing

Esposito concludes with the following:

The conceptual issue facing university presses is whether they should aspire to be universal. The case for specialization is strong and becoming stronger. This in turn puts pressure on the delicate ecosystem in which presses operate today, in which they attempt to support many of the disciplines of importance to their parent institutions, especially in the humanities. We may be entering the era of the non-universal university press, and it is the opportunity in direct-to-consumer marketing that will lead us there.

Thoughts & questions:

  • I’ve long been fascinated by the question of how generalist publications or publishers hold their own and grow in the digital era—or what a successful strategy looks like for a publisher, newspaper, or magazine that caters to a broad or general audience. (How necessary is it to specialize?)
  • Tangent: there was an interesting article about the success of The Daily Mail (UK) in building a digital presence that’s different from its print presence, but just as successful in reaching or appealing to a mass audience. (There was even a New Yorker profile about their success.)

Proving Legacy Media Can Flourish In A Digital Age, an interview with The Atlantic’s Bob Cohn by Mr. Magazine

Mr. Magazine interviews Bob Cohn, the CEO of The Atlantic, which is widely perceived as a success story for legacy publications transitioning to digital business models and platforms. Cohn discusses the print-digital relationship:

The power of The Atlantic in print drives our digital success in a couple of ways. First, the actual print stories which we post to the website do very well. The cover story outperforms most other stories in most months, not all stories, but most … we post more stories in a day to Atlantic.com than the monthly magazine creates. So there are so many more digital stories, but the magazine pieces tend to outperform. … It is proof that the magazine stories can do very well in a digital environment.

I think that we approach this as two separate products with a common brand. We actually have three products; the print product, digital product and the live event product. And those are all tied to a core brand, but they express themselves very differently.

Thoughts & questions:

  • From Cohn, I find this very wise: “[Print and digital] express themselves very differently.” You’d think that would be a given (even stupidly obvious), but at many publications, I’ve discovered insistence that digital content behave and/or be executed in exactly the same way as the print content.

A More Thoughtful Amazon by Craig Mod

Mod proposes a fix to the unfair reviews that get posted on Amazon: if a reviewer is voted as “unhelpful” often enough, the rating of their account can drop very low indeed. Amazon could use this data to give more weight to the more helpful reviews and reviewers “and cancel out five thoughtless trolls.” So why don’t they?

A good question.

Posted in Smart Set.
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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2 Comments on "How University Presses Need to Improve Their Marketing [Smart Set]"

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William Ash
Very interesting. I think another interesting publisher that is working directly is OR Books. They seem to have a model that works and have, in a weird sense, specialized or at least have an audience with similar taste. I am not sure how important the Amazon thing is. The review system is more about customer engagement then actually generating information about products. And if we are going to talk about the 1-star problem, we need to talk about the 5-star problem–if most products are average, then most reviews should be 3 stars. Statistically, even with the odd 1-star review, your… Read more »
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[…] Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I share three smart pieces worth reading about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.  […]

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