Giving a classic new life

Keeping teenagers reading books for fun has long been a challenge for parents and the publishing industry alike – although the young adult market has exploded over recent years with authors like Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins hitting the big time when they successfully made the crossover from the shelves to the big screen. But while the YA market is booming for paranormal, dystopian and coming of age novels, encouraging a new generation of readers to embrace classic novels is an entirely different challenge.

Wuthering HeightsI recently went to an exhibition at the British Library that looked at the history of the gothic theme in literature, and one thing I found really interesting was an example of a 2009 reprint of Wuthering Heights. The cover had been completely redesigned in the style of the hugely popular Twilight books to try and win over the notoriously difficult teenage market by enticing avid Stephanie Meyer fans would relate to the colour and style of the new cover.

It might sound strange, but the two books both have gothic themes in common and there are apparently repeated references to Wuthering Heights throughout the Twilight series. The new cover actually proved remarkably effective. In fact, it was so successful that sales of Wuthering Heights, originally published in 1847, increased fourfold between 2005, when the first Twilight book was published, and 2010. Continue reading

Taking books into the digital universe

Every so often a piece of digital content comes along that stands out as being truly innovative and original.

The augmented reality concept launched alongside ‘The Calling’, the first book in the Endgame series by James Frey, takes reader interaction to a new level. Endgame: The Ancient Truth is a website run by a character, Stella. It has been designed initially to be a prequel to the novel, which invited readers to compete for a £300,000 prize by solving hidden puzzles within its pages.

The site is intended to evolve with and intersect with the story, and aims to engage with readers across a whole range of digital platforms. People from all around the world will be able to completely immerse themselves in an online community, engaging with other users, solving problems, live chatting with characters, watching video blogs or simply using it as a resource to better understand the background behind the story. The actress playing Stella will also be appearing at live events.

Until relatively recently, publishing a book was a one-way exchange. Now, engaging readers, reviewers, bloggers and v-loggers in conversation online is a vitally important part of generating interest and hype around a book. With Endgame: The Ancient Truth, a huge amount of work has gone into creating a multilayered, constantly evolving site for people to explore. It’s an excellent way of adding another dimension to the reading experience and of keeping fans immersed in the fictional world long after they turn the last page.

I came across a reference to the game on Twitter, spent some time exploring and felt instantly intrigued and inspired to find out more about the book. Interactive digital content has been done before – from the Pottermore universe to the QR code inside  Peter James’ ‘Dead Man’s Time’ that allows readers to visit scenes from the novel – but the world that has been created around Endgame stands out for the scale and scope of it’s ambition.

Although this approach might not be suitable for all books, it demonstrates how authors, book marketers and publishers are constantly thinking outside of the box to bring books into the digital world.

The power of social media

Nowadays, the success of a novel largely depends on the publicity it gets. It depends on whether it’s featured in newspapers and magazines, where it’s placed a bookshop or if it makes the Waterstones top picks or the Richard and Judy book club list. It depends on whether publishers invest in posters and advertising or on the competitions they run on their websites.

But it also depends on social factors – on who’s talking about it online, on the number of people reading it on the train, on casual conversations around the office. And it’s this social platform that offers the greatest scope for authors to promote their books directly to their readers.

One of the best recent examples of authors that have really made the most of the tools at their disposal is John Green, the bestselling author of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, ‘Looking for Alaska’ and ‘An Abundance of Katherines’. Most people will have heard of his books. But what you might not know is the role that social media played in his commercial success. Continue reading

Going digital

The explosion of self-publishing platforms has, understandably, been a topic of great debate in the publishing world. Quite simply, these platforms have the potential to completely transform the structure of publishing as we know it – from who can publish a book in the public realm to the price that a book will be sold at. But what does this really mean for the industry?

In my opinion, ebooks and self-publishing present a range of new and exciting possibilities to traditional publishers to evolve. Take Penguin, for example. The publisher has recently invested into author services and self-publishing platform, Author Services, while in 2011, ebook sales made up 12% of its total revenue. It’s an impressive percentage that effectively demonstrates the direction that the market is moving in, and from a practical point of view, I can see the appeal. Embracing digital publishing has the potential to reduce overheads and unnecessary outgoings while still offering almost limitless opportunities for expansion.

The perceived threat comes from the vast array of authors who are now able to bypass traditional publishing houses and publish and market their work themselves. Examples of hugely successful self-published authors are not hard to find, and there are a few in particular that any discussion of the topic can’t fail to mention. E. L. James and her Fifty Shades trilogy is one. Hugh Howey and his widely acclaimed apocalyptic novel ‘Wool’ is another.

But I think it’s worth noting that although these authors began their journey in self-publishing, they also made agreements with traditional publishers to produce hard copies of their books. This undoubtedly is a major factor in their success. In fact, Fifty Shades accounted for almost one in ten of the 750 million books sold globally by publisher Random House across the year, resulting in record annual revenues and profits. And although I’d been reading rave reviews of Howey’s ‘Wool’ for a while, it wasn’t until it came out in paperback that I invested in a copy for myself.

This goes to show that the input and expertise of a traditional publishing house is still very much in demand. By positioning themselves as an expert in possession of all of the tools that self-published authors need to hit the big time, publishers can ensure that their knowledge and business model can go hand in hand with the digital revolution.

The real danger posed by self-publishing, as far as I can see, is in the already established, big name authors of the publishing world. There’s a real possibility that as self-publishing becomes more established, these authors could jump ship and take on the role of publisher and marketer for themselves, safe in the knowledge that a large percentage of their loyal readership will duly follow.

Whatever happens, the publishing industry almost certainly has more to gain from embracing digital publishing than it has to lose.

Book bribery or just clever marketing?

Over recent months, the decline of the British high street has showed no sign of slowing. And although fashion retail has suffered some major hits, it’s arguably electronic, book and video game stores that have the most to fear from online retailers and supermarket chain contenders, with major names such as Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster falling into administration in 2013 alone.

WaterstonesWhen it comes to bookshops, the collapse of Borders in 2011 is a stark reminder that it’s not just independent stores that are at risk – but that seemingly well established, international brands are also just as vulnerable. In fact, despite their strong corporate support system, I’d argue that larger chains have their own difficulties in that they may struggle to build a personal connection to their customer base.

One retailer that’s trying to buck the trend is Waterstones. In a bid to boost sales and to challenge the rise of e-readers, this high street heavyweight has recently announced a new initiative that will see it team up with popular authors to offer exclusive bonus content. The business has signed a deal with Chocolat author Joanne Harris for an additional, non-plot essential chapter for her latest novel – Peaches For Monsieur Le Curé – which will be only available in copies purchased from Waterstones.

But as readers, what do we think of this new initiative? On the one hand, I can’t help but feel that authors should want their book to be the best that they possibly can be, regardless of who’s reading it or where they’ve purchased it from. Their reasons for signing up to the scheme may have stemmed from the best of intentions, but at the end of the day some fans are going to miss out, whether that’s through ignorance of the existence of Waterstone’s extra material or for financial reasons.

That said, is the Waterstones scheme really that different to others that have preceded it? The Richard and Judy Book Club for example, which is available exclusively at WH Smith, has long since offered readers additional reading material and discussion points, while many publishers choose to offer a sample chapter of the authors next novel as a teaser. And moving away from books for a second, DVD’s often provide viewers that chance to access deleted scenes or interviews with the cast.

At the end of a day, a business is a business and in these challenging economic times everyone has to think of new and innovative ways to make money and increase their profit margins. With online retailers and larger supermarket chains now able to offer significantly reduced prices, leaving traditional high street stores struggling to compete, the promise of additional material is just one way of helping stores like Waterstones to stand out from the crowd and to offer customers more for their money.

As for me – I’m torn. I can see the advantages of these initiatives from a marketing perspective and in theory I’d love to buy all my books from Waterstones. But in reality I just can’t afford to, especially not with my reading habits! If anyone has any thoughts on this, let me know!