The Beyonce Debate

The music world is very much like the book world in many respects. Big names garner huge sales without much effort, and little names usually need a lot of publicity to make their mark. In December, a music great did something not many people would have the nerve to try, and it worked out for her spectacularly!

If you haven’t heard about Beyonce and the self-titled album she released in mid-December, you probably don’t listen to Top 40 radio. But she did something daring—instead of months of promotion leading up to the album release, Beyonce used Instagram and posted a video and the word “Surprise!” on the day of the release. Nothing more. No one knew about the album, it had an exclusive release on iTunes (meaning, you could only buy it there), and best of all, she did no other marketing at all. The one photo caused an all-out frenzy and people went directly to iTunes to download, making it one of the top selling albums of 2013, even though it was only released in the final few weeks of the year. Amazing, by any standards!


Of course, she’s such a superstar and has such a following that it wasn’t impossible for this to succeed in her case. It was risky, but it paid off. The debate is on now, however, about other musicians doing something similar, and whether or not it would work now that it’s been done. Was it great just because it was a gimmick? Could she do the same for her next album and still do as well? Only time will tell, but the idea of not spending money on marketing has got to be throwing publicity departments everywhere into a tailspin.

The question here is whether or not companies need to be throwing HUGE publicity/marketing money behind sure-sellers who have proven themselves to have enormous followings. This idea is starting to make the rounds on forums and websites galore. Can they go with minimal marketing and still sell high, while that money could be thrown into lesser-known acts who often get very little in the way of marketing funds and publicity? Sure, record companies want all of their acts to sell big, but they don’t want to “waste” marketing money on someone who might not sell as many albums. It’s a tough decision, and certainly one that’s just been challenged.

This can all be applied to authors and publishing companies as well. If an author has already sold well and has a proven track record, more money will be spent promoting the author’s books in stores, online and through whatever media necessary.  But a new author—even one with a lot of buzz—will traditionally get less backing from their publisher for marketing. That seems a little counterproductive. Beyonce’s experiment has many wondering whether this is an old idea that might do well to change. If publishing companies spent less sending bigger authors out on book tours etc., would we stop buying those books? I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t keep looking for new books from my favourite authors just because I haven’t seen a full page ad in a magazine talking it up. But I WOULD be inclined to pick up a book by a new author that has some promotion behind it. Often, we find out about these books through word of mouth. It’s not enough, in my opinion.

The world is changing, and social media is becoming the way to connect authors/musicians with their fans. One tweet, one status update or one selfie on Instagram is often enough to generate thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. Maybe we’d do better to start focusing some social media marketing on well known names, and leave the traditional marketing to promote the lesser known.

What do you think about new creative ideas for promotion and marketing? Do you think lesser known authors would benefit from more backing, while not taking anything away from high-profile authors? Do we need to change our thinking behind promotion and social media? Join the conversation!


Should we call ourselves “Free Bookstores”?

After reading an article recently about libraries and marketing, I started thinking about all of the things we do in our own library to try to get new patrons coming in. There are brochures and posters, displays at various school meet-the-teacher nights, ads in the newspaper, website links and blog announcements. But often, I think we are really preaching to the choir. The people who really seem to notice the advertisements are the people who actually use the library on a regular basis, and so the marketing doesn’t work the way we’d always like it to work.

Libraries are becoming relevant to a more diverse group of people now, with public internet access, online catalogues, downloadable books, children’s activities, movie & music rentals and even computer gaming in some cases. So why aren’t more people visiting and why aren’t libraries considered “cool”? Are there ways to market libraries that we haven’t really thought of? After all, we are probably one of the only places left that provides “free” (or mostly free) services to people. And with the cost of gas and the rising costs of living, you’d think that a place offering free services and products would be enticing enough. But we’re not quite exciting enough for some just yet.

So I’ve been thinking about marketing, which brought me to a great article in Maclean’s Magazine about a breakfast cereal we’ve had in Canada since 1941 called “Shreddies”. The Shreddies brand cereal is about as plain as you can get….little squares of whole wheat that look like they are knitted together. Yummy, but not exciting. And in a world of flashy cereals which have marshmallow stars or crunchy clusters of honey and oats, Shreddies needed something to revive interest in the brand.

Along came a lowly intern named Hunter Somerville who was asked by his marketing firm Olgilvie and Mather, to come up with a new marketing idea for the back of the box. And so, he came up with what he calls “the stupidest, worst idea ever”, but an idea which completely changed the way we’ll view Shreddies forever. Diamond Shreddies were born by turning the little square on its side. (By the way, there are plenty of funny videos on YouTube about the new Shreddies and the reactions that people had when they were first introduced.)

Maybe we have to think about libraries in the same way now… them with a completely new spin, so to speak. What could we do? Call ourselves “Free Bookstores” as a way to draw in people who are interested in saving money? Or how about “Information Supercenters?” “Search Engine Buildings”?

Any ideas?