I’m enjoying this conversation about the comparative efficacy of internet vs. traditional. I was especially happy to see M.J. Rose commenting on the last blog, because she’s one of the most tech-savvy authors out there, and she brings a lot of experience to bear. M.J., I’d be interested to hear more about the promotion you just finished for the author who sold 20,000 books in seven weeks — that’s an astonishing figure for a book without co-op.
However, I’m still not entirely convinced that the internet outperforms more traditional methods of book promotion. While I agree that an internet campaign has the potential of reaching 28 million people, that’s still just potential. Does that really mean twenty eight million sets of eyeballs are going to see that online book ad, much less actually look at it? Perhaps as a reader I’m unique, but when I visit online sites, I scarcely even notice the ads, because there are so many of them. But if a print ad appears in USA Today, I will notice it. I’ll even study it. And I’ll get the intended message: “This book must be important.” Granted, that USA Today print ad will cost more than any online ad. But it also has a greater psychological impact.
The effect of book tours is certainly debatable, but a lot depends on how that book tour is planned. If those signings are held in a string of chain stores hosted by indifferent event coordinators, the author is going to be sorely disappointed. But if your tour brings you to places such as Poisoned Pen or Books & Company or Mysterious Galaxy, places operated by influential and passionate book mavens who will get out the word and sell tons of books, I think the tour still has the edge over the internet.
Perhaps my enthusiasm for book tours was crystallized by my experiences abroad. In both Germany and the UK, my book sales didn’t really take off until I’d been there on book tours. The publicity that accompanies such tours, the radio interviews and the print coverage, are the real reason we go on tours. It’s not just to sit in stores and sign books.
As an author, I’ve certainly tried internet marketing. I’ve paid for online ads on news websites, blog sites, and webzines. I commissioned an expensive video book trailer, which appeared on quite a few sites. Did it make a difference in sales? I just don’t know. If so, it was hard to measure.
With a newspaper ad, though, or a radio ad, it’s easy to see the results by watching for an immediate spike on Amazon.com. As M.J. pointed out, the effect of print and radio ads is brief, and that Amazon spike will quickly dissolve — but at least it’s possible to see the effect. There were two sales spikes in particular that impressed me. One came after I was a guest on Art Bell’s night-time radio show, which had a huge listenership. Art praised my book GRAVITY on the air, and within two hours of the broadcast, GRAVITY‘s Amazon ranking went from around 30,000 to 10. (Which, I’m sorry to say, actually works out to only a few hundred extra copies sold.) Since then, I’ve heard from a number of readers who told me they were introduced to my books because of that Art Bell program.
The other time I saw an impressive spike was in the weeks after the GRAVITY hardcover came out. I’d been following my Amazon index, which to my disappointment was not too impressive. But one morning I checked and found that it had zoomed from the thousands up to 200, and I didn’t know why. Until I opened that morning’s edition of USA Today and found a glowing review in the books section.
I get a lot of fan mail, but I haven’t yet had a reader tell me they first bought my books because of an online ad. More often, it’s because their mother or sister or wife told them about my books. Yes, maybe that word of mouth came in the form of an email from mom saying “You’ve got to read this author!” Or maybe they first heard about the book on an online message board, often not even a book forum. But so far, it doesn’t seem to be from paid online advertising.
There’s no question that the internet is a powerful tool, and that we can’t ignore it. I’ll continue to pay for online promotions. I’ll probably commission more video book trailers. But as of this moment in time, I guess I’m still a traditional gal at heart.