The top publishing marketing trends from the pandemic that are here to stay

Veronica Ferrari is an editorial and publishing consultant, a social media analyst and a writer. She has a background in Communications, Journalism and Publishing and six years of experience helping international clients, including leading educational publishers, with social media analysis.

Over the last year and a half the Covid-19 pandemic has had a strong impact on the publishing industry, with the closure of bookstores around the world for long months, as well as in-person festivals and literary events being cancelled.

Most companies had to reinvent themselves and become more creative in their marketing efforts to continue reaching customers. As a consequence of lockdowns, consumers also changed and evolved their shopping habits, embracing new digital behaviours that will likely continue into future years.

Speaking at the The Bookseller’s Marketing & Publicity Conference 2021, Lee Dibble, marketing and communities director at Pan Macmillan, mentioned how “digital purchase behaviour has leapfrogged 10 years in the past year”.

Publishers and booksellers stepped up to the challenging times, implementing innovative and creative marketing and publicity campaigns to engage with readers. 

Here are some of the top publishing marketing trends from the pandemic that I believe are here to stay.

Online and hybrid events

One of the first consequences of lockdown, together with the closure of bookstores, was the cancellation of all in-person events. What we thought would be just a temporary measure, turned into over a year of restrictions, hugely impacting the events business.

Book launches, author events, book fairs and literary festivals are some of the most awaited moments in publishing and have a key role for marketing, which meant it was essential to continue despite the pandemic.

With the world moving their business and social lives to Zoom, it felt like the right place to host authors, conferences and publicity events. While the experience might have felt different, it allowed publishers to reach wider communities in a more inclusive way, with no geographical barriers. Digital World Book Day in March 2021 saw 110,000 people connecting live over three days, compared to 10,000 who could take part in person the previous year.

Online events took place in a few different ways:

  • Free or paid-for authors events on Zoom, where readers could engage via the chat, and an interviewer presented the author and the book.
  • Book clubs with authors, where the readers paid a fee to join in and be part of the meeting discussing the book, such as Hachette’s Feminist Book Box book club.
  • Instagram and Facebook Lives with one or more authors interviewed by marketing teams or taking over the publisher’s account.
  • Literary festivals and publishing events organized on Zoom.
  • Programmes of events run by bookshops, where readers could purchase a ticket or a copy of the book including the ticket.

With things getting better and in-person events starting again, publishers don’t want to leave behind new engaged audiences that connected from around the world when in-person events came to a halt. It would also mean potentially losing sales of books sold in association with tickets for these events. Hybrid events, with a mixture of in-person attendance and live streaming, can represent a solution for a more accessible future and offer the opportunity for entertaining marketing campaigns with themed parties, activities during the event, games and interaction between readers and authors.   

TikTok, Reels and readers’ love for short videos

With over 18 billion views, the hashtag #BookTok has attracted a global community of readers sharing their love for books in short video clips. Using original ideas, trending sounds and songs, they create emotional connections with their audiences while promoting their favourite titles and genres.

With more time at home to read, post and engage with other users, the pandemic has seen the popularity of TikTok spike. In the first quarter of 2020, it reached 315 million downloads, the best quarter registered by any app ever.

Seeing the power of the platform, publishers have been connecting with content creators to collaborate on promotional videos and creating their own accounts to engage with readers. Some bookshops now have dedicated shelves for “Books Trending on TikTok”. In a recent BookMachine blog post, Joseph Clark explored how marketers can use the platform and what they can learn from BookTok influencers.

Embracing users’ love for the short video format, in August 2020 Instagram launched Reels, which users in the Bookstagram community are using similarly to TikTok, sometimes reposting the same content on the two platforms.

Some of the most popular videos include short book trailers, videos recreating the aesthetics and atmosphere of the books, unboxing of book mail, grouping similar titles, tours of curated bookshelves, and interpreting dialogues from the books.

Some of the advantages of short video content we have seen so far:

  • Being able to connect with new readers, as the algorithms show video content to wider audiences outside followers.
  • Better engagement as video allows to create emotional connections.
  • Viral trends created by popular songs and audios used in the clips can generate unexpected spikes in sales.
  • Content created in collaborations with influencers shows originality and creativity and is rewarded by loyal followers.
  • The format spreads easily across to other platforms such as Twitter.

The booming of audiobooks

The popularity of audiobooks has been growing in recent years and in 2020 sales leaped 42% to £56m just in the first half of the year, due to the pandemic.

Authors and publishers have the potential to reach wider audiences with audiobooks, targeting fans of podcasts and social audio apps such as Clubhouse. Clubhouse’s success has actually attracted the attention of other social media companies and Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, LinkedIn and Reddit now have plans to create their own social audio features.

Some ideas to market audiobooks include:

  • Organising listenalongs with influencers, where content creators promote the audiobooks they are listening to at the same time to their audiences, as done by Tandem Collective agency.
  • Sharing audio samples across social media and streaming platforms for users to get a taste of the quality of the audio and the narrator’s voice.
  • Offering subscriptions to a collection of titles, starting from the backlist, before services like Spotify expand their audiobook offers.

A recent interesting marketing initiative for audiobooks is Audible’s creation of a book club podcast, which was launched at the Hay Festival, and sees TV star Graham Norton interviewing audiobook authors.

With the digital publishing landscape getting fast-forwarded with the pandemic, marketing teams had to follow with innovative ideas and we expect the years to come to continue in this direction, as younger generations connect with books through technology and social media, and consumers overall adapt to new digital formats.

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