Marketing by Degrees

Blanche DuboisIn A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois tells the kind hearted doctor, who takes her away to the mental hospital after her breakdown, that she always depended on the kindness of strangers.  The same could be said of many publishers.  The typical book marketing plan is mostly aimed at getting the title into the bookstore or library channel.  Certainly good exposure, but it comes at a huge cost.  The cost involves inventory, discounts, promotions and returns.  The clutter in these channels is huge.  Often this means paying more for less attention.   For independent publishers with smaller marketing budgets, this can result in financial loss.

Why not depend, at least initially, on the kindness of those closest to you – in a social network sense.  Think of every customer as being so many degrees of separation from the author.  According to current thinking in network science, there are at most 5 or 6 degrees of separation between any two individuals.  If your objective is to sell books, you could organize your marketing efforts by degrees of separation from the author.  The first degree of separation might include friends, family, colleagues or others in the author’s extended contact list.  It would probably be relatively inexpensive to find and market to these prospects with a good probability that they might purchase the book.  The first degree of separation can represent a test of sorts.  Sales are via pre-order; inventory is scaled precisely to demand. 

The next degree would be generated from those individuals – via word of mouth.  As Chris Webb recently pointed out, word of mouth is still important.  In fact, the connectedness brought about by the Internet and all the new social media technologies makes word of mouth buzz ultimately important.  If demand is weak at this stage, the book may not sell no matter what promotions are applied.  More promotional  and marketing resources are required to move beyond this stage.  However, if this initial marketing has been successful, there may be enough profits to cover the extra costs associated with marketing to perfect strangers. 

Marketing by degrees of separation leverages the connectedness of the Internet age.  It may also become more important as the bookstore channel assumes a less prominent role in overall book sales


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