More on internet vs. traditional marketing

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 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.

16 replies
  1. techiebabe
    techiebabe says:

    Interesting post! The only book I ever picked up because of an ad was a Nikki French book. It didn’t turn out as I had hoped, and I didn’t finish it. If I notice ads now, I ignore them.

    I came to your books by seeing The Surgeon in Tesco. Somehow, the cover made me recall Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z Brite – a book I really enjoyed many years back. So I picked up The Surgeon, flicked through, and took it home. I read it as quickly as I could – then again straightaway to get the details that I missed. Thereafter I was hooked on your books!

    If it hadn’t been for that cover, I probably wouldn’t have noticed your books, since my friends and husband seem to read sci-fi / fantasy exclusively and so we never discuss what we read.

    I’d be interested to know how much value you put on the cover style and artwork.

    Also, on the subject of book tours, hearing you speak and being able to ask a question was enjoyable, and made me know that you care about your audience. It also introduced me to Dennis Lehane – and maybe some of his fans are now reading your work for the first time.

    There is something about going out to hear someone speak, or perform, which is far more “real” to me than just reading a book or listening to an album, and which makes me feel that it was worthwhile to have bought everything and given this person my money. It’s rewarding to see that the person behind a book cares about it, and about the people who read it.

    I was going to buy Keeping the Dead anyway, but hearing you speak about the book gives an extra aspect to it, and makes me particularly glad that I bought that rather than something else – makes me appreciate it more than a random book off the shelf, I suppose.

    I hope that made sense – and sorry for the long comment!

    — Flash

  2. spyscribbler
    spyscribbler says:

    Well, I believe this is all true, now, but that’s missing a whole new demographic that is emerging. There are a growing number of people who only watch their TV shows online, who only get their news and their magazines online. My local newspaper, bless their souls, can’t GIVE me their newspaper. (Although I did ask if I bought a subscription, would they please stop littering my driveway with it. I would pay for an online subscription! I want to support the journalists!)

    We also ignore ads, though.

    What is never talked about in author marketing, though, is search engine placement. I suppose it only works if you have a niche. But if you do have a niche, it does work better than any ad can.

  3. JMH
    JMH says:

    I’ve always been a believer that the best way to sell a book is to get another one on the market. An author with only one or two books will likely find promotion and marketing difficult, whether online or traditional. An author with ten books out, however, will find that the books cross-market each other, i.e., a reader finds one and gets the others.

    As an example, my books currently account for 4 of the top 50 bestsellers in the legal thriller category at Kindle. None of these books have been marketed in over a year. Why are they selling? My suspicion is readers going though the entire series, coupled with new readers finding them through word searches.

    Could a $600-900 ad sell books like this, say in LJ or Booklist? It’s doubtful. Books sell books better than ads ever could, at least IMHO.

  4. Tess
    Tess says:

    Lots of great comments here!

    Techiebabe, about the cover — yes, yes, YES! For a debut author, beyond a large print run, the next important factor in selling tons of books, I think, is a great cover. A bad cover can kill a wonderful book. So far, I’ve been pretty lucky with my covers. When Transworld first came out with the cover for THE SURGEON, I admit, I didn’t really understand it. Blood drops on a bathroom drain? But it turned out to be really scary, it worked, and it just proves that I’m no graphic artist.

    JMH: yes yes YES again! Having a backlist is what makes an author build an audience over time. It’s extremely rare to hit bestsellerdom with your first or even fifth book. But if you can grow your readership, those backlist books give you lots of “real estate” on the bookstore shelves. Just by being prolific and long-lived, you can eventually claim a whole shelf to yourself. I just noticed that the re-release of an old paperback romance of mine is now the #14 bestseller on the German site. It was published back in 1996, and 13 years later, it’s a bestseller. The backlist sells the frontlist, and vice versa.

  5. Abe
    Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    I have a tradition after reading your blogs to respond with the incorrect answer, but I found this on another website, and I thought it pertains to this subject. If it does, great. If not, I’m still batting 1000.

    Both traditional and Internet marketing have the same goal: attract new customers or maintain current clients. However, there are differences between them, based on common marketing tools: the 4 Ps (or product, price, place and promotion).

    Product. In traditional marketing it is tangible but in a website is just an image. Nevertheless, Internet has an advantage: the possibility to offer a wide line of products without the need for a physical space (cost saving). Even purchases are a click away.

    Price. As you should know, price of anything depends on the cost of producing it, showing it and distributing it. Internet marketing promotion is cheap, so it has the possibility of saving costs, what means lower prices for customers. But traditional marketing has a chance: people could feel more secure paying in a store than through Internet.

    Place. One of the strategies of positioning is to surround the client of the brand. It means creating an attractive atmosphere in terms of company’s corporate image. For traditional marketing, companies can decorate their stores even with music and nice odors. That is a challenge for Internet: a website can include music, animations, nice images and colors but the experience won’t be the same.

    Promotion. This is the clearest difference. Internet is fast: ads, information and messages arrive quickly to millions of people. Traditionally, the ad could be fast (as in radio) but it endures few seconds and the public isn’t huge amount of people like on the Internet.

    By the other hand is the durability: a TV commercial spends some seconds during few times a day, an ad in a newspaper is expensive and appears just one day to specific geographical area. Instead, web sites, ads, banners, e-mails, etc. have 24/7 access for people of the whole world.

    Portfolios, papers, brochures, catalogs… don’t have to be printed or stored on Internet marketing like in traditional. It means costs savings.

    As a last point, in spite of traditional marketing allows communication face to face with the client, Internet marketing allows direct communication with target market in a bigger area.

    Conclusion. There is no war between traditional and Internet marketing. We can say that Internet is a complementary tool for traditional methods; but marketing online is faster, cheaper and reaches more people.

  6. M.J.
    M.J. says:

    The “potential” of 25 million people noticing the ad is actually greater online than the 1.2 million in print because the 25 million would each see the ad multiple times – and the more you expose someone to an ad the more it becomes likely they will notice it.

    But even more importantly people do not remember that they notice ads – there are tons of studies to prove it. Advertising is much more subliminal than that.

    You’ll see an ad five times and not even know you saw it – but then you’ll be in the store and notice a book and think you heard soemthing about it.

    I ran an ad in Publisher’s Lunch last month that clearly said “advertisement” and I got a note from the HEAD of a publishing company congratulating me on the “great write up in Pub Lunch.” She thought it was editorial.

    In addtion authors who notice ads or don’t aren’t the group of people we’re talking about and we do have all the data and spikes to show for it.

    Also video book trailers aren’t ads… and putting them up at sites can only be measured if we can look at the sites and determine who big they were and how well the trailer was marketed. Few are.

    One author doing a set of ads isn’t evidence of how well ads do or don’t work. We have much more objective evidence.

    I don’t this is the place to argue all this but anyone who wants more info can write me at and read the marketing blog I run that publishes lots of objective evidence.

  7. bob k
    bob k says:

    This is an interesting discussion Tess.

    You ask if all 28 million eyes will actually see internet ad…not a bad question, but in a way – the wrong question.


    Let’s go back to the NYT times full page ad. 1.2 million circulation – BUT…1.2 million people will not see that ad. Some portion will skip the page without the ad even registering, or skip the entire section…other may “see” the ad but it doesn’t even register…

    That same thing happens with all kinds of ads. But the more eyes you put the ads in front of – the lower the percentage you need to actually see the ad and respond.

    Lets go back to the Internet – according MJ Rose’s numbers, you get in front of 28 million pairs of eyes 5 to 10 times for the half the amount of money. Or 10 to 20 time for the SAME amount of money.

    So…you are getting in front of nearly 27 MILLION more people and you are doing it repeatedly over time.

    Part of the “science” of advertising is the knowledge that it often takes a number of “impressions” for a product to break thru the noise and be recognized by the potential purchaser. Repeated short impressions to 23 times the number of eyes may well work better than a single long impression to the far smaller number of eyes.

    But the effect is hard to measure.

    Why is that?

    Say both of your ad methods increased your sales by the same amount…say 10,000 books.

    A newspaper ad probably has about 36 hour window of effectiveness – not much more. Over those 36 hours your books would average about 278 books per hour more than before the ad. Noticeable.

    But the internet ad campaign – 28 million people, 10 to 20 impressions – over 12 weeks…

    That is 2016 hours – or an average of under 5 books more per hour.

    The ads generate the SAME number of sales – but you would be hard pressed to prove that the internet advertising generated any sales.

    That is my 2 cents worth.

  8. M.J.
    M.J. says:

    You can’t find out how many sales an non internet ad generates! People don’t report in like that. Even on an internet ad – many people don’t buy the book that minute. Its far easier to judge the success of an internet campaign than a non internet campaign – although acutual sales in the moment is not the goal of either campaign but generating awareness for the book so the person will go find out more about it or pick it up.

  9. bob k
    bob k says:

    M.J. says “You can’t find out how many sales an non internet ad generates!” But if there is a noticeable spike in sales after an ad – which is what Tess had described in her experiences – everyone assumes the spike is a direct effect of the ad. At least some of it probably is…

    All I was trying to show is that with an ad campaign that is spread out over a longer time and relying on multiple impressions – you might never be able to detect a change in sales. It doesn’t mean the ad campaign is not effective.

    And of course, whether you can track the results of advertising or not is also dependent on your sales model.

    For an author, a book publisher, it would be very difficult. But if you are a company that sells your own products – with a call center to take phone orders and/or a retail website – you can track a lot of your sales back to advertising efforts.

    Internet ads, for example, can contain code so your website can capture click thrus and ensuing sales (doesn’t work well if they click thru, view the product and leave – and then return later directly and make the purchase)…

    There is no question that internet ads can drive sales – as can other forms of advertising. The problem is being able to figure out how best to spend your advertising dollars to get the best result.

    Internet can be a hard sell when the NY Times ad produces a noticeable (although short term) sales spike and internet ad response is harder to detect.

  10. M.J.
    M.J. says:

    Bob – makes sense – I misunderstood what you meant.

    One thing I should say is I’m not talking about all this as theory or based on my personal experience as a novelist

    . I was the creative director of a 150 million dollar NYC ad agency for ten years and now for the last five years own and run an ad agency called We work with authors and publishers – everyone from S&S to Random House to debut authors and bestsellers – so my numbers are not guesses – but marketing stats that we’ve gathered from reliable sources.

  11. Tess
    Tess says:

    Thanks so much for the great comments. M.J., Bob, and Abe, you have given me much food for thought and have made me re-think my previous beliefs. And M.J., when my next book gets scheduled (I just have to finish writing it!) I will be dropping you a line. I’d love to find out what ideas you have for marketing my next release.

  12. David Montgomery
    David Montgomery says:

    Considering how few people read newspapers these days, I doubt I’d be willing to spend much money buying a print ad for a book. And I say that as a newspaper critic.

    I think it’s inevitable that more and more of the marketing for books will migrate online — and I think ultimately this will turn out to be a good thing.

    It’s easier to target your audience, it’s cheaper, and it’s more measurable. Of course, you have to do a lot more of it. You have to do it in a smart way. But for those who do, I think it’s possible to get good results.

    The fact that this debate is going on is proof of how much things have changed, and just how damn difficult it is to get attention for books these days.

  13. sarah pekkanen
    sarah pekkanen says:

    I think the Internet and particularly book bloggers are going to be (and already are, in some cases) a huge force in publishing. I’m enormously grateful to bloggers for championing books, particularly during this time of economic turmoil, and many bloggers have hundreds of followers who value their recommendations. They should be cherished by publishers for spreading the word about good books. As for M.J., I’m planning on working with her when my debut comes out early next year. Her most recent novel got a glowing write up in People mag and was picked up by a major network as a series — I suspect the woman knows a thing or two about publicity! 🙂

  14. Bridget
    Bridget says:

    Not only committed independent booksellers but dedicated readers can contribute to a book’s success. After going to book festivals, attending book signings and reading author’s blogs to get recommendations, I make sure I spread the “good reads” as birthday and Christmas gifts to those friends who belong to book clubs themselves and review them on It may be incremental but it’s easier/less expensive to keep your original customer/reader base that find those new eyes.
    And I agree with Tess, that one discovered, reading older and newer releases from the same author that intrigued you upon your initial discovery, will help make your sales.

  15. bob k
    bob k says:

    Yes, M.J,

    There is no doubt you have more experience, more current experience, and especially more directly relevant experience (having worked directly with authors and publishers – and being an author) – I was using created numbers to show a point, because I don’t know the publishing industry and what kinds of response rates you might expect from the various forms of advertising.

    But I was a circulation manager for a small catalog company ($25 million/yr in sales) – a small enough company that I was also involved in whatever other forms of advertising and PR we were undertaking – including online banner ads and search engine key word marketing efforts.

    It has been 4 years or so – so I don’t remember the click thru rates and conversions rates (click thru to sales) on the online stuff, but I do remember that it was pretty inexpensive advertising that more than paid for itself.

    But because we had a retail website and a call center – we could track back a good percentage of the sales generated in this way. If we had just been able to look at our daily total sales figures – we would not have been able to distinguish the lift in sales…

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