Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Christian Book Expo was a No-Show

I just returned from Dallas, TX where I witnessed one of most disappointing moments in the history of Christian publishing. The purpose of my trip was to visit several WildFire Marketing author clients at the Christian Book Expo (CBE), a first-of-its-kind consumer-oriented book fair at the Dallas Convention Center. Expected attendance was over 15,000 people.

To everyone’s dismay, the total attendance was only 1,500 people, which included 275 children who got in for free. Less than 10% of the needed amount to break-even showed up. The Christian Book Expo may go down as the “Christian Book No-Show.”

Publishers sold very few books and lost a lot of money. Several famous authors stood at empty book-signing booths looking embarrassed. The few attendees who were there acted uneasy by all of the open space and quietness. It was one of those situations where you cringe and think, “This is going to leave a mark.”

I was very disappointed to witness what happened, because I thought CBE was a good idea. Unfortunately, the Devil’s in the details, and many of the event planning and marketing details got overlooked. How so?

There was talk that CBE suffered due to the current economic crisis, struggling publishers going through staff layoffs, and competition with March Madness and Spring Break Week throughout North Texas. But, I think these were minor issues compared to the real problem.

After talking with several Dallas-area church leaders and residents, their common response was “We never heard about the Christian Book Expo. No one told us it was coming to town.” As a marketing consultant, this lack of event awareness is inconceivable. How can you plan such a massive undertaking and neglect the most important part…marketing?

My wife is a professional event planner who managed corporate events at the Salt Lake Winter Olympics and numerous Christian women’s retreats. To us, we can’t comprehend that a large group of multi-million dollar publishing houses (with excellent marketing personnel) didn’t implement a marketing plan with benchmarks that monitored progress leading up to the event. For example, here’s what puzzles me:

• The official CBE website didn’t launch until 8 weeks before the event date. That’s too late to build momentum needed for a turnout of over 15,000 people. The website should have been up at the latest by last Fall.

• Three days before CBE, only 700 tickets had been pre-sold! Why wasn’t an alarm sounded weeks ago to pour on the marketing efforts? Most event planners use early ticket sales as a benchmark to indicate progress. If those benchmarks aren’t met, then the event is cancelled or the marketing efforts go into overtime. This didn’t happen with CBE.

• There are over 1,000 churches in the Dallas / Ft. Worth area. Plus, the 3 largest churches represent a combined congregation of over 100,000 people. So, why weren’t churches used as ticket sales outlets before CBE? I was told that hardly any of the churches in Dallas conducted pre-sales activity for CBE. Yet, churches routinely pre-sell tickets to music concerts, mission trips, marriage conferences, women’s retreats, etc. I don’t know if the Dallas churches weren’t asked to sell tickets, or if they refused to assist. However, the basic idea of marketing is to reach consumers where they congregate, and churches make the best fit for reaching Christian book readers. And, if the churches refused to help, then you know ahead of time that you’ve got a big deterrent to a successful event.

• In the weeks leading up to CBE, many people prayed for a successful event. But, God didn’t answer their prayers. As a Christian, sometimes I’m guilty of neglecting hard work in the hopes that God will somehow just work everything out. At CBE, God reminded us that He’s not in the “bail-out” business. Instead, He wants His children to work hard and use smart business principles in the midst of their ministry efforts.

• The CBE organizers assumed that publishers would use their connections to help reach the masses. But, publishers aren’t setup to handle this kind of function. They’re great at marketing to the retail trade. But, publishers aren’t positioned to market directly to consumers. That’s because readers care about who wrote the book, not who published it. The CBE disaster was a prime example of this truth.

Will CBE ever happen again? Nobody knows. It depends on how long it takes for the industry to remove the egg off of its face. I still think the event is a good concept. But, a future attempt will require a much more concerted effort of event planning expertise.

The positive news is that several WildFire Marketing clients, such as Lysa TerKeurst, Kathi Lipp, Mary DeMuth, and Brenda Garrison, were among the few author standouts during CBE. Stay tuned as I blog about their success in an upcoming post.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How Author Websites Influence Book Sales

Last summer, the Codex Group, a publishing research firm with clients including Random House and Barnes & Noble, surveyed nearly 21,000 book shoppers. The objective of their study was to understand the relative effectiveness of author websites among shoppers and determine the elements that keep them coming back to a site. Result from this recent ground-breaking research revealed these important statistics:

● Book shoppers who had visited an author website in the past week bought 38% more books, from a wider range of retailers, than those who had not visited an author site.

● Visiting an author's website is the leading way that book readers support and get to know their favorite authors better. And, this is true regardless of age.

● Most author websites lack the right content that makes readers want to return, such as exclusive material or fan interaction.

The Codex research revealed that author website visits translate directly to the number of books bought. However, the data also indicated that most author sites don't attract the repeat visits needed to help boost book sales. And, according to readers, flashy design is not a key to success. Content is more essential. So, what do these new statistics mean to you as an author?

1. Your website is your most powerful book marketing tool. A website that keeps readers returning can have a direct affect on increased book sales.

2. Most author websites work against the author. The reason why is that most websites are nothing more than a boring, electronic brochure. Not much is offered to help the visitor experience the author's message, join a community, interact with fans, or get free resources.

3. If you have a lame website, you're hindering your book sales. The good news is that you can fix this problem. But, don't rely on your web designer for answers. Most web techies don't understand the needs of an author. They tend to get caught up in expensive bells and whistles that waste your money.

4. Don't assume that a fancy website is a good website. For example, the current #1 selling fiction author in America, Stephenie Meyer, has a terrible-looking website, but she's got a huge community around her books. So, you can have the best-looking site on the Internet, but if it's not getting a lot of traffic and repeat visitors, then it's a waste of money.

5. High search engine rankings aren't necessarily important for high-traffic. Don't waste money and time trying to boost your search ranking...that's an Internet myth. Instead, focus on building a website that provides value to readers and gives them reasons to return.

Click on the links below to view some before-and-after website samples of WildFire Marketing clients:

Sample # 1: Leslie Vernick
Sample # 2: Johnny Parker
Sample # 3: Mary DeMuth

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Client Success Story: Johnny Parker - National Exposure in Ebony Magazine

Hats off to WildFire client, Johnny Parker, for receiving national exposure in the March, 2009 issue of Ebony magazine. Johnny got an article published on leadership issues based on President Obama. The article has already resulted in several speaking inquiries and interest from influential people. Johnny credits WildFire Marketing for taking his website, resources, and keynote speeches to a higher level, which helped position him to get national attention.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thomas Nelson Launches New Books with Multiple Formats

Publisher's Weekly announced the following news:

"Thomas Nelson announced today the launch of NelsonFree, a program that allows readers to receive content in multiple formats—physical book, audiobook and e-book—without making multiple purchases. With NelsonFree, the price of the hardcover book includes both the audio download and the e-book. The first two NelsonFree titles will go on sale later this month. They are Scott McKain’s Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails and Michael Franzese’s I’ll Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse: Insider Business Tips from a Former Mob Boss. Another 10 Nelson titles will be available in the format before the end of the year."

For the rest of the article, click here.

It's good to see a publisher taking proactive steps to meet the changing needs of readers. Too many publishers are stuck 10 years behind current societal trends. Bravo to Thomas Nelson for thinking "outside the book."

March Comparison of ECPA Publishers

Check out the March Amazon rankings for the Top 15 ECPA Publishers. This research lets you see both the overall CBA industry rankings, plus each publisher's individual top 20 bestselling book list.

Why is this information helpful to you? This is one of the few ways that authors, agents, and publishers can simultaneously see how a publisher's best books stack up against their peers. For example, Neilsen BookScan doesn't let other publishers see the competition's sales numbers (only bestseller lists). But, WildFire's free research gives publishers a way to see which titles are selling well on Amazon at 14 other houses. This data is also helpful to see which authors, topics, and genres are dominating Amazon sales trends.

Items of Interest this Month:

a. Top-Selling Overall Titles on Amazon:
- "The Love Dare" (#6) from B&H Publishing.
- Rankings exclude the self-published title, "The Shack" (# 2).

b. Biggest Publisher Moves:
- Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, and Tyndale take the top 3 spots.
- No major publisher moves this month versus last month.

Note: Amazon rankings do not reflect accurate sales figures and only account for a small percentage of a book's total sales. However, they can help determine how specific publishers or book titles perform over time versue their peers.

Click here for an Excel spreadsheet of the February 2, 2009 rankings.

For all previous month rankings, click here.