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 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.

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