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How Content Marketing Can Save the Book Industry

This week I spoke at the Digital Book World Discoverability & Marketing conference in New York on content marketing and the book business. From my experience as a media professional, marketer, self-published author, and traditionally-published author, I like to think I have an interesting perspective on the industry.

If you have never published a book before with a mainstream publisher (i.e., Wiley, McGraw-Hill, etc.), here is the worst kept secret on the planet: Marketing the book is entirely the responsibility of the author. That’s why publishers look to target influencers with vast networks.

Over and over at the event, I heard from publishers about how important it is for authors to build up their networks. This is correct. But until I came to the stage, no speaker had talked about how and why publishers should build their own platforms. I made the case that the future of the niche (or vertical) book publisher rested entirely on building content platforms through partnerships with both authors and non-authors.

I also made the case for something that took most of the audience by surprise: Why books? Hear me out on this. What if the book publisher created a niche platform around a specific expertise area? For example, let’s use content marketing. If the publisher created a following around the niche area, with the help of multiple authors and thought leaders, that would create an opportunity to look at all types of paid content, not just books. How about online events? How about in-person events? Training? Learning packages? Sponsored content? The possibilities are endless, and they just might be what saves the book industry.

Books are great, but why not offer multiple content packages that will engage consumers on an ongoing basis?

The error of channel focus

At CMI, we have the opportunity to work with marketing and PR professionals at some of the greatest brands in the world. One of the biggest challenges we see, even with veteran marketers, is channel focus before content strategy. So often, marketers get infatuated with blogs, or webinars, or Facebook, or Pinterest, and we forget that the channel strategy should come way after the content strategy. If a marketer approaches us about creating and distributing a book, we’d have to first figure out the business objective and a dozen other things before we could determine whether the book channel would be the right choice.

So why the focus on just books? Mostly because, that’s the way it’s always been done. I believe that’s a flawed strategy and leaves a lot of opportunity on the table, for both the publisher and the author.

For the most part, a publisher has to start over every time a new book comes in the door. It’s like launching a brand new product, which means you have to build awareness, generate excitement, and get enough information out there so people can consider a purchase.

But what if publishers leveraged authors to create an ongoing resource of expert information, instead of just for books?

A new model using content marketing

So, we are in the book business ourselves, publishing a total of six titles to date. But before we could even consider creating and distributing books with our authors, we had to develop a platform around content marketing… a place where readers come on an ongoing basis to get the information they need.

Over the past two years, we’ve built CMI up from zero to over 100,000 unique visitors a month. Here’s some insight into how we did it.

  1. Research tools: We used tools like Google Trends to determine where the keyword opportunities were in our industry. That tool was one reason why we chose “content marketing” as our term focus over others such as custom publishing or branded content.
  2. Content gifts: We developed and distributed what we call “content gifts” to attract influencers to our community. Our content products, like the Content Marketing Playbook and Content Marketing Predictions pieces, showcased influencers from around the world. Our job in these is to promote these influencers and make them look and sound like rock stars.
  3. 4-1-1: We use the “Social Media 4-1-1” strategy (hat tip to Andrew Davis). This means for every one piece of “sales-y” content and one piece of our educational content, we distribute four pieces of informational content from those influencers to our community. The goal here is to distribute great content to our networks, but also to get on the radar of people we’d like to have in our community (the influencers).
  4. Develop rock stars: Once we build relationships with influencers and up-and-comers, we promote their content on our site through our content marketing blog. Every day, we distribute free, how-to information written by our contributors. Although we don’t pay for the content, we have an amazing editorial team whose sole job is to make these contributors look and sound like content marketing rock stars. Ultimately, this has been the core to our strategy.
  5. A focus on email: Unlike a book publisher, whose goal is to sell a book, our goal is to develop an ongoing relationship with our readers. To do that, we need to get their email addresses. So for the majority of our content landing pages, the goal is to get that email address. To do that we use content gifts like the 100 Content Marketing Examples piece and pop-ups like Pippity. Once we have their email, we nurture those people through our weekly email newsletter. And through this relationship we’ve built, we have the opportunity to sell products and services down the road.

Getting the author involved in the publisher’s platform

Now that the platform is built, we use our contributor network (now over 150) as our testing ground to find new authors. Once we sign an author to an agreement, our job is to get the author involved in all of our content projects.

Author Content Marketing

In this example, we’ll use Andrew Davis, author of the new book Brandscaping (a must-have, by the way). At CMI, we deliver both free and paid content to our community. We believe that if we can leverage Drew and the thoughts behind the book within everything we do, it will be better for both him and CMI. For example:

  • Blog posts: We feature Drew as a key contributor in blog posts like this one (What if You Sold Waffles with a Side of Content).
  • Email: We promote that content out through our daily and weekly e-newsletters.
  • Webinars: We look to get Drew involved with our monthly educational webinars as a key expert.
  • Magazine: We not only advertise Drew’s book in Chief Content Officer magazine, but we want to use him as a key contributor to the magazine.
  • Events: All our authors, including Drew, had key speaking roles at Content Marketing World this year.
  • Paid content: Then, of course, we have paid content opportunities such as actually selling his book.
  • Consulting: When it makes sense, we look to get our authors involved in our corporate consultation and training opportunities.

If we only sell a book, we’ve failed

Yes, you read that correctly. We don’t want to just sell a book… we want to have a relationship with our customers for a long, long time. So does the author. The only way to make that work is for the publisher (not just the author) to create a platform that keeps readers coming back. Sometimes the content is a book; sometimes it’s something else entirely.

I think if more book publishers viewed their authors as ongoing contributors to their niche expert areas, they would see incredible opportunities for both sides. The one-off book is dead; long live content marketing.

If you are interested in learning more about content marketing-related book publishing, check out CMI Books