Outsourcing Distribution of Book Publicity
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Getting information to the media has always been an involved process, starting with determining which media might be interested, and unearthing contact information for the appropriate editors, producers, and writers. Once they had their lists, publishers and authors used to mail catalogs, sell sheets, and releases to promote new titles and events, but that’s so twentieth century. As “E-blasts:
Options, Experiences, and Benefits” showed last month, e-mail services such as MailChimp, Emma, and Constant Contact are a faster, less expensive option that many choose today.
But there’s another alternative. Some IBPA members use publicity release services. In light of new challenges, it makes sense to learn what these services offer, and what you can expect to pay for them.
It has become incredibly complicated and time-consuming to build and maintain media release distribution lists. Here’s why.
- Blog Proliferation
Blogs are everywhere. And they come and go, sometimes lasting only a few months. Some blogs welcome media releases and guest posts, others don’t. Keeping track of who blogs on your topics and what they accept is a huge job, even if you focus only on blogs posted on major media sites. And there are millions—yes, millions— of blogs issued by individuals, associations, companies, government agencies, institutions, and advocacy groups, both for-profit and nonprofit.
But there’s no denying that blogs are increasingly important for book promotion.
Many focus on niches that reach exactly the target audience you seek—an online variation of the once common specialty newsletters issued in print by individuals and groups.
- Online Radio, Satellite Radio, and Online Television
Like blogs, online broadcasts may be sponsored by major companies, in this case stations that now usually offer web-based archives of their live programming. Almost anyone else can buy time on other websites to stream their own programs, some of which use guests. And like blogs, such programs are often hosted by amateurs who may discontinue the programs when other obligations intervene or when they fail to generate advertising revenue.
- Media Consolidation
For-profit publications and commercial broadcast stations are more and more likely to be parts of chains, with acquisitions, closures, and spin-offs common. This year alone, Time Warner spun off Time Inc. and its magazines, and Gannett announced that USA Today will be on its own soon.
Besides making it challenging to keep track of which company owns what, consolidation makes it hard to determine who covers what as stories produced by the staff of one publication or station may be used by others in the same company. And some media companies have everything produced in an obscure central office, making it impossible to contact editors and producers at local addresses, which may house only advertising sales reps.
Sharing content within media companies may be informal and limited to papers in a single region, such as the neighborhood weeklies that serve major metropolitan areas, or it may be formalized through syndication, with stories available to every member of the company and by subscription to other media. For example, the California-based McClatchy newspaper chain syndicates its material and material from the Scripps- Howard papers through McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
- Newspaper Cutbacks
Because of all the material available through syndicates and such news services as the Associated Press and Reuters, and because of declines in advertising and subscription revenue, most daily newspapers now have far fewer reporters to cover local stories, including stories about books by area authors.
In addition, some papers that had book reviews have eliminated them, and many papers have cut back on their feature sections and dropped the staff-written columns that often showcased authors.
- Changes in Federal Communications Commission Regulations
Commercial broadcast stations no longer have to devote time to the local public service programs that used to air many author interviews. Often, they broadcast taped feeds from a central office for at least part of their day. From the publicist’s perspective, these changes spell disaster because they cut down on opportunities to pitch books as local stories.
THE SERVICES SOLUTION
Rather than struggle to maintain an accurate database of media contacts, the kind that can be used with an e-blast service, some IBPA members are using modern iterations of the fee-based publicity release services first established more than 60 years ago.
Here’s a quick look at several of them, starting with those with federal government recognition.
- BusinessWire (businesswire.com)
Now a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, this company is recognized as an “authorized disclosure vehicle” for U.S. and other financial regulatory agencies, so publicly owned companies use it to meet financial disclosure requirements such as announcements of quarterly earnings.
It also offers “Specialty, Targeted Circuits” such as “EntertainmentWire,” which it says reaches entertainment reporters, columns, syndicates, and television programs in the top 30 U.S. entertainment markets; and “HealthWire,” which distributes information to segments including “Consumer: Children,” which includes media ranging from Adoptive
Families and Family Circle to BiculturalMom.com and The-ExhaustedMom.com. Fees start at $400 per release. Free help is available at “Write a Press Release”
- PR Newswire (prnewswire.com)
Disseminated internationally, this service claims it reaches American newsrooms and more than 5,400 websites and databases in the U.S. alone. Like Business Wire, PR Newswire’s Vintage division provides regulatory compliance and shareholder communications services for public companies. Its “Newslines” range from Automotive and Education to Technology and Travel, and are also categorized by region and state. If you select “Midwest,” for example, your release will be sent to twenty news services plus hundreds of magazines and trade journals, newspapers, and radio and television stations in that area.
+IBPA members get free new PR Newswire membership and discounted fees. Others pay membership fees starting at $99 for nonprofits and $199 for businesses. Distribution fees vary by length and list selected. Free help is available at PR Toolkit, smallbusinesspr.com.
- Vocus (vocus.com)
This cloud-based public relations and marketing software company was founded in 1992 and owns both the free Help a Reporter Out (HARO, helpareporter.com), and the feebased PR Web (prweb.com). Charges for PR Web start at $300 per month, which pays for two press releases sent to as many as 1,000 traditional and new media representatives once in each month.
Chelsea Green Publishing of White River Junction, VT, is among the IBPA members using PR Web, and online marketing manager Gretchen Kruesi says, “This software provides a large database of constantly updated contacts that we can narrow down, depending on the book’s subject matter as well as on what part of the country an author may be traveling in (or living in).” She uses PR Web for five or six general e-mails each year, announcing author tours and book launches. “We also use Vocus to send targeted blasts to media contacts across the country,” Kruesi adds, depending on the topics of books and where authors are making presentations.
- Cision (cision.com)
Founded in 1932 as Bacon’s, this company provided contacts in book form for decades, listing print and broadcast media, both consumer and trade. In 1970 it introduced a press release mailing service. Today that service includes “more than 3,500 of the most-visited news websites, online services, and news aggregators [and] … traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, and broadcast news desks, as well as business trade journals, news bureaus, and wire services.”
Its database and distribution services are combined with media monitoring. The website does not provide information about pricing, and a Cision representative declined to provide base prices. Reviews of the service report that fees start at about $300 per month; lower-priced options may not include enough mainstream media for book publishers.
Note: Vocus and such affiliates as Help A Reporter Out are being rebranded as Outmarket, and it and Cision are also being combined. For the latest contact information, see the Vocus and Cision websites and OutMarket.com.
- BookBub (bookbub.com)
Unlike the services described above, BookBub does not disseminate press releases. A feebased book promoter, it describes itself as helping “publishers and authors looking to reach new readers through limited-time e-book deals,” and says that “millions of members turn to BookBub’s daily e-mail to find free and deeply discounted ebooks that match their interests … members choose the genres they want to receive, and our team of editorial experts hand-selects each book we feature from our pool of submissions.”
BookBub rarely promotes titles priced higher than $2.99, and it considers only titles that are available through at least one major online retailer and/or in at least one popular format (Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, and Smashwords).
Fees vary depending on a title’s genre, the number of subscribers for that genre’s e-mail bulletin, and the book’s price during the promotion. The range is from $40 for a blurb about an LGBT or African-American title offered free (sent to c. 60,000 and c. 100,000 subscribers respectively) up to $1,600 for a blurb about a mystery title priced above $2 (sent to c. 55 million subscribers).
Traci Lower, the author/publisher at Patriot Press in Gettysburg, PA, used BookBub three times earlier this year. In February, she spent $425 to promote the historical novel Noble Cause priced at 99 cents (that ad would now cost at least $480).
During the BookBub promotion, the book’s sales on Barnesandnoble.com went from between 10 and 15 copies a month at $5.99 a copy to 656 copies at the 99-cent price, which added $659 to the gross sales figure (it had been $90 prior to the promotion). On Amazon.com, 33 copies had sold by February 4, the day the promotion started. Within the next two weeks, 1,326 sold, with the result that gross revenue increased by $1,312 over the previous figure, $197. (Note, though, that these figures do not take account of the transaction costs the retailers charge.)
The sales of Noble Cause are almost exactly what BookBub reports as average for discounted historical fiction titles.
For discounted Christian fiction, the range is between 320 and 3,510 during a promotion, the service says, which fits what happened with Lower’s novel for Patriot Press, Above and Beyond. On July 6, she ran an ad for it in the Christian Fiction category, reducing the price from $5.99 to 99 cents for four days. “I had sold 107 units by the morning of July 6,” she reports, but “by July 12 I’d sold 1,178 units.” At today’s rates, that ad would cost at least $380.
Lower also ran an ad in April, offering free copies of her historical fiction Shades of Gray, usually $6.99. At today’s rates, that promotion would cost $250 or more. “On the morning of April 28, the book was ranked 16,143 on Amazon, and by April 30, it was #1 in the Free Kindle Store,” Lower says. “More than 63,750 copies were downloaded, and I received hundreds of new reviews, going from 198 before the ad ran to 576 by mid-summer.”
She believes BookBub pays off, even when copies are given away. “The cost seems high, but the ads produce results— far better than with the $10, $20, and $30 ads I was buying on other newsletter sites that didn’t generate sales. Even with giving away all those copies, I more than covered the cost of the ad with book sales after the free promotion, plus I got much added exposure, and the sales of my other books had noticeable increases.”
It’s important to recognize that BookBub is not responsible for all these additional sales. Lower did plenty of other marketing. “I heavily promoted the free/sale prices on Facebook and Twitter, as well as on other low-cost venues like The Fussy Librarian,” she says. (With BookBub, publishers are responsible for making sure each e-book retailer has reduced its price for the period of the promotion, and for other publicity, especially through social media.)
Lloyd Lofthouse, who runs Three Clover Press in Walnut Creek, CA, is another publisher who recommends BookBub. “It’s so successful at connecting readers with books that even traditional publishers pay for its e mail blasts,” he declares.
Lofthouse compares BookBub to a book club “where readers sign up to get recommendations of their favorite genres.” He believes readers respond to the recommendations because “BookBub is extremely selective and rejects many of the books that are submitted; in fact, it rejected my second novel but accepted my first twice, once in 2013 and once this year.”
ALL-PURPOSE PUBLICITY POINTERS
Whatever you choose for your publicity program and whatever your budget, three points are key.
- Books don’t sell themselves. Regardless of how strong your content is, you must have ways to let the trade, the media, and consumers learn about your titles.
- Unless a book is easily accessible, publicity for it is a waste of time and money. If you can’t make it easy for people to buy your book, they’re unlikely to do that.
- Whether they’re handled by you, your staff, or vendors such as those described here, announcements, press releases, and other means of book promotion have value only insofar as they are disseminated by media with significant readership—people who both want to buy a particular book and can afford to buy it.
Whatever your resources, commit to publicity for a book only when you’re confident the distribution is in place, the author is ready to be interviewed, and the database or databases you’re using can reach people who will care about this title.
Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes for the Independent from Seattle, where she is promoting a new title, Advertising with Small Budgets for Big Results: How to Buy Print, Broadcast, Outdoor, Online, Direct Response & Offbeat Media (Barrett Street Productions).
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