Book Marketing: Statistical Predictions or Dartboard Prognostications?

Don and Derek

The Book Kahuna and his Corgi, Derek!

I recently read this article on the Digital Book World (dbw) website by Peter McCarthy:  Marketing Books Using Demographics, Psychographics, and Consumer Behavior which was an infinitely fascinating research paper on how companies should look to market their products based on these integrated areas of consumer buying patterns.  The one thing I thought when reading this article was:  Have we really become so predictable in society that publishing companies can have a good idea what we are going to buy before we know what we are going to buy?  The answer came back to me as a resounding:  YES!

In thinking about this on a deeper level, it only makes sense that populations that share these characteristics would be fertile soil for intensive penetration of sales pitches.  McCarthy’s view of watching Golf and not wanting to buy a Buick was food for thought since the sponsors must have thought long and hard about who the audience would be that would be watching Golf on any given day.  I have to admit, I was a valet parker at some catering halls on Long Island in the 1980s and I actually really liked all the Buicks that came in to be parked.  It was also great to know that Mr. McCarthy has no need of little blue pills for erectile dysfunction.  The game of Golf is one that is played by millions but is extremely important to those members of society who have retired from the working world, have expendable, disposable income, and have more time for watching Golf on a weekday, buying and driving a Buick, and using those blue pills for what they enhance and maintain.

The one aspect missing from this article has to do with the power of impulse buying.  This is the essence of the bookstore.  The browse, the finding, the “Hand” selling in an independent bookstore, these are the parts of the interaction in the bookselling process that are not visible to the marketing researchers in their quantum laboratories.  More and more, the big publishers are being out-marketed by independent self-publishers who are tapping into a niche and building a brand that has nothing to do with Demographics, Psychographics, and Consumer behavior, but everything to do with people who like to throw together meals in a Crockpot on the weekends, or those who love to crochet, or a travel book on where the best dog parks are in a certain geographic area.  Not every aspect of the consumer buying patterns can be quantified in terms of behavior and patterns that are explainable.  There is a statistical vast unknown percentage that always needs to be taken into serious account when building a sales model and a P & L statement.

Another aspect that can completely throw off all of your marketing models are unforeseen media occurrences that directly impact the sale of your book.  When I was working at Perseus Books Group as Production Manager for the Basic Books imprint in 2000/2001, we had a title on Rudy Giuliani (Rudy: An Investigative Biography of Rudy Giuliani) that was coming out in the late spring/early summer.  This was about the time that Hillary Clinton was running for the US Senate in New York State, and Giuliani was expected to oppose her in the race.  The book was not a complimentary piece on the former mayor, and would probably have damaged his Senate run, if he weren’t diagnosed with Cancer and decided not to run against Mrs. Clinton.  Americans do not like to see people kicked when they are down, so the book tanked in the market.

This title is only one genre in the grand scheme, but is a good example of how models and predictions can be thrown off by extenuating circumstances.  I like to read about marketing principles and information farming on consumer patterns, but sometimes the old dart at a dartboard is just as effective in predicting the sales outcome in a perilously fickle game. 

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