The World of Academic Book Marketing
The Higher Education Division of UTP is quickly approaching its fifth anniversary, and in advance of this hallmark, we will be contributing monthly blog postings on the purpose and various functions of our division. Our first five years have been set amidst a background of rapidly changing technologies and shifts in the needs of teachers and scholars, and we would like to contribute our voices to the wider conversation. To carry on the discussion, our Marketing Manager, Anna Maria Del Col, discusses how we market books in the Higher Education Division.
Exactly ten years ago today, I started my career in academic publishing. I was working for Broadview Press, a little indie publisher known for its beautiful classroom editions of previously out-of-print “bestselling” novels like The Beetle and Bug-Jargal (both of which I highly recommend). I was armed with a master’s degree in English lit and I was not deterred by the fact that our press was run out of the attic of our VP’s home, or by the fact that my first day consisted of a three-hour marketing meeting about tablecloths (for conference book displays, not for meals). This was publishing. And, as it turned out, this was book marketing at its core. I was enamoured.
Ten years later, a lot has changed. While academic publishers probably still argue to some extent about tablecloths, we now also argue about open access, MOOCs, DRM, metadata, ebook pricing models, corporate mergers (e.g. “Random Penguin”), the death of the bookstore, open textbook legislation, and where we will all end up when Amazon finally takes over the entire industry (see these handy infographics from 2011 and 2012).
Broadview Press was, in many ways, an early victim of these now prevalent issues. In 2008, approximately five years into my career in academic publishing, Broadview was split in half and a huge portion of its backlist—and its staff—were purchased by the University of Toronto Press. Based on geography, job description, and various sorts of allegiances, I made the move to UTP to help form the new Higher Education Division.
As marketing manager, I immediately tasked myself with writing the “story” of our new division, which you can still read under the “Our Mandate” portion of our website. Of course, this story includes phrases like “meet the changing needs of teaching and scholarship in North America,” “strive to be recognized as a first alternative to larger textbook publishers,” and “partner with instructors and scholars.” These may sound like jargon, and perhaps they are, but I fully believe that we have an opportunity as part of a university press to speak to many of the issues faced by higher education and by the publishing industry—both in our words and in our actions. In an age where instructors are more and more hesitant about assigning textbooks and students are less and less willing or able to afford them, shouldn’t a not-for-profit university press with a dedicated higher education team take the forefront?
So, for the past five years, we have been working to achieve all of the goals laid out in our very nicely worded mandate. Our editors have actively acquired the kinds of books that we see as lacking in the higher education market today: books with a point of view that can contribute to scholarship in a given discipline while also prompting students to think critically and ask questions. Not your standard textbooks. Not your standard textbook prices, either (more on textbook pricing in next month’s blog posting).
In sales and marketing, we have done our best to support the work that our editors (and ultimately, our authors) have provided us. It’s no secret, at least in Canada, that the University of Toronto Press has suffered in the past from a reputation for lacklustre marketing of its books. In the five years that we have been at UTP, though, this reputation has changed dramatically. Working with our colleagues in UTP’s Scholarly Publishing and Journals divisions, we have undertaken fairly extensive and rigorous rebranding projects, website and catalogue redesign processes (these are seemingly ongoing), and we have attacked all of the areas that twenty-first-century book publishers are constantly told they should attack: emarketing, social media, integration of traditional and online marketing, SEO, improved metadata, etc. Add to that our radical increases in advertising dollars spent, printed promotional materials, number of conferences attended, emails written, and the thousands of in-person visits that our sales reps make each year on campuses across North America and it’s clear that we are going the distance.
In our division, we also try to go beyond. In academic publishing, that generally means building and participating in communities of instructors and students. Because the majority of us have advanced degrees in the humanities and social sciences, we are not far removed from those who end up teaching from and using our textbooks and we share a lot of the same passions. This makes “marketing” to these communities just seem like common sense and, well, fun. Here are two examples:
Promoting The Viking Age in Kalamazoo, Michigan:
To outsiders, the International Congress on Medieval Studies, held annually at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, might not make much sense. But to over 3,000 medieval historians, it is the highlight of the year. This community of scholars supports both the Higher Education and Scholarly divisions of UTP and we have outrageous amounts of fun selling books to them in Kalamazoo. For the past few years, we have released new Viking comics at the ICMS, originally to promote The Viking Age: A Reader, edited by Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew McDonald, but now just to feed the yearly demand for new comics. This community of scholars (which includes grad students) also eagerly anticipates our year-round themed quizzes, book swag, and recently produced activity sheets.
Promoting thoughtful pedagogy online:
Late last year, we launched the Teaching Culture blog, which is quickly growing into a community of anthropologists who are interested in sharing strategies, news, and innovations in both teaching and publishing in the discipline. Whether sharing a syllabus on “Zombies and the Anthropology of the Undead” or tweeting about The Object Formerly Known as the Textbook, Teaching Culture moves us beyond the book, and provides a much needed forum for anthropologists. Other publishers are now starting to do the same in various disciplines, and we’re excited to be at the forefront of this print-plus innovation and to be a part of this community.
Of course, these kinds of projects are not possible without the energy, ideas, and will of our authors. In contrast with much larger textbook publishers, who seem to focus more and more these days on obtaining that elusive student dollar (flyers and posters in university bookstores across North America confirm this), we have focused more on securing the right kinds of authors and tapping into their already-established academic communities. Our editors are constantly on the hunt for the “ideal” UTP Higher Ed author—which usually means first and foremost a passion for teaching—and we echo those efforts in our sales and marketing efforts. Instead of flooding the market with unsolicited exam copies of new and unchanged editions of books every year, we instead look very closely at course descriptions, syllabi, and teaching interests before approaching an instructor with a book suggestion—usually by email, and where possible in person. The emphasis is always on the course being taught and what is needed to make that course successful. Here is just one more example:
Promoting The Democratic Imagination online:
Last fall we launched a website to support the publication of The Democratic Imagination by James Cairns and Alan Sears. This book was already in the works when the Arab Spring, Occupy movement, and Quebec student protests arose, and it became clear that instructors would benefit from extra material that tied the book’s core themes and concepts to what was going on in the world. The authors provided classroom activities and course planning ideas, and the site continues to grow and evolve based on the energy and recommendations of the authors and their supporting community of activists, students, and professors.
So, while marketing managers in the world of academic publishing should still make sure that books make it to conferences on time, and that they have book stands on which to lean and tablecloths to cover bare table legs, there is so much more going on right now as the industry finds its way through flux. I am pleased to be part of it, and I look forward to what the next ten years will bring.
-Anna Maria Del Col, Marketing Manager