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Nice Birthday Present from Seth Godin

November 14, 2009

purple cowFriday was my 53rd birthday, and as birthdays for old people go, it was okay, I guess.  But there was this one little “shining moment” (to misapply the iconic phrase of my friend David Barrett) in the day.  Laura opened her new copy of Seth Godin’s new release of his famous and fabulous book, Purple Cow, and there I (and this blog) was on page 186.  The topic was Murfreesboro, Tennessee-based Dispensary of Hope.

Sure, you can file this post in the “gratuitous self-promotion” category, but then it’s not every day you find yourself excerpted within the pages of  a marketing powerhouse’s seminal book–even if it’s just 200 words-worth.

You’d do the same thing :-).

Music Lessons for Book People

October 30, 2009

Publishers in Nashville have a front row seat to the harbinger of their future–the music business, which is front-and-center in the local news every day.

Fortunately, publishing is behind the curve that music is on and we can be grateful that music is simultaneously taking the beatings and paving the way for understanding life in a new technological age.  We don’t have to worry about all the same issues, but points of comparison abound.


Take this top-of-the-front-page headline article from the Tennessean last week:  Google’s new audio search could be good for Nashville’s Music Row.  This understated, if timid headline announced the introduction of “music pages [that] will package images of musicians and bands, album artwork, links to news, lyrics, videos and song previews in one place.” How a platform as big as Google’s could be good for music is undeniable.  As you read the article, you realize that local music people long ago quit crying about the sky falling and have embraced the new digital world that’s changing every nanosecond or so.

If publishers listen in on the conversation among music people, we gain huge insights into how to behave, and how NOT to behave, in the new viral/digital age that will soon be ours.  It’s like we openly get to bug their offices, as if they were our competition (which, by the way, they are–but that’s another discussion).

Here’s what we should be hearing that arises from this article:

The news comes as music CD sales have tumbled dramatically over the past decade. Sales of digital downloads have not made up for the revenue loss.  “Anything to promote music sales especially in an environment of declining CD sales is a good thing,” [songwriter Steve] O’Brien said.

Takeaway?  Book sales will slide; digital book sales will go up; digital book will be less expensive; total revenues will go down.   It will happen.  Quit fighting it.  Change your business models now before you lose your shirts like the music guys did while they were hoping the problem would go away.

“Our ultimate challenge as music marketers is to aid discovery and to connect the consumer with what they are looking for,” said Ashley Heron, senior manager of marketing for Lyric Street Records and Carolwood Records. “Good move by Google to take advantage of ‘typed-in’ consumer interest.”

Takeaway?  The role of marketing in the viral age is to “aid discovery and connect” the consumer to what they want.  Thanks to the world that is the internet, it’s easier than ever to find which people are looking for what.   Marketing’s role is to help that particular consumer discover the authors, content, and titles for which their tastes long and guide their mouse-hand right to the link that will help them discover even more so they can make an informed buying decision.  I love that phrase:  “aid discovery.”

“I’m worried that we are on the threshold of a time when the remunerative value of music is zero,” said Nashville writer and entrepreneur Paul Schatzkin, whose Celestial Jukebox blog focuses on digital music. “Your browser is becoming your iPod,” Schatzkin said. “There is a behavioral shift afoot where consumers are getting accustomed to the concept of access to an infinite universe of music versus ownership of a limited personal library.”

Takeaway?  Many, many books will soon have no ability to incite revenue.  The $9.99 digital book and the $8.99 best seller at Walmart are no more flukes than the $9.99 downloadable album.  Free content is proliferating exponentially both by new authors, disapproving ones, and dead ones.  The new, old role of publishers is to become partners with their authors while adding real value to their authors’ agendas and figure out how to get paid in the process.

“I just want the music to be heard,” [2006 American Idol finalist and Christian artist Chris] Sligh said. “To me, within the next five to 10 years anyway, the recorded music is just going to be a marketing tool for getting people to come to your shows. That’s where artists make our money anyway.”

Takeaway?  Words on screens or paper will become instruments of larger ambitions that make more money than either printed or digital books.  The biggest mistake of the recorded music business was to think that their job was to sell cd’s.  Their job was to sell music.  That’s different.  Today, they are still experiencing the painful consequences of this mistake.  Likewise, publishers will perish if they continue to think their job is to sell books–print or digital.  Our real job is to sell stories and ideas.  First and foremost, we are shepherds of those authors whose calling is to tell good stories and spread great ideas. Of course, like the music industry, our survival depends on figuring out how to monetize the message.

To that end, we can either push against the future or learn from the mistakes of music industry.  Which decision we choose may well depend on which parts of the conversation we listen to.

The Implications of Books in Dollar Stores

October 24, 2009

value books

For the past ten years I’ve had the pleasure of selling Bibles to three of the country’s largest dollar store chains–a collective of  about 17,000 stores.  I figure I’ve sold more than 3 million Bibles by now.

I’ve also sold a lot of books.  Historically, book sales weren’t sold into stores the same way Bibles were.  Bibles were “everyday” items, sold year-’round in a permanent spot on the shelf.  Books, on the other hand, were sold only occasionally, and then only as  “in and outs” at peak promotional times, like Christmas or Easter.

Until a couple years ago.

In 2007 Thomas Nelson started selling larger everyday programs into Fred’s Discount Stores—a 625 store chain.  Fred’s increased their permanent space for adult published products from 12 inches (2 bibles) to a full three-foot shelf.  And it worked.

Soon we added another shelf and focused on building the story of how books could sell among the poor, marginalized customers of these chains.  Dollar General noticed (we’d had some successful experiments there over the years) and today dedicates over 50 running feet of adult-level book products in their stores, and they’re ripping through them.  Fred’s now has a full 5-shelf endcap of books and Family Dollar appears to be getting the message and should soon be following suit in the book business.

While I fought hard, long, and patiently to introduce books into the dollar store channel, and their presence in the channel is a boon for the few publishers allowed in (it’s a LOT of units per title) at least for a while, the implications of having a major book presence in the dollar stores should be considered from a 30,000 foot level. That books are a reading technology that is finding a “permanent” home in the extreme discount channel is, I think, instructive for the publishing industry.dollar store bookshelf

Poor people read and buy books—but only on their terms. Everything about this truth is undoubtedly news to publishers, since nearly all book publishing targets the middle- and upper-classes. [Well, they have always been willing to sell the scraps–remainders–to the poor.]  The adult poor will thrown down for a book IF it’s cheap enough ($3 – $8) and IF they can buy it where they ordinarily shop and IF the topics are inspirational or fictional.  The typical Dollar General customer doesn’t browse at Barnes & Noble.  Don’t let the economic downturn you see fueling huge increases at the extreme discount chains mislead you; books are succeeding among their core constituency—single mothers with family incomes under $32,000 a year.

If the technology that is a book has made its way to the dollar store channel, it’s about to disappear altogether from the normal trade and discount markets. Dollar stores are the tail end of the long tail of technology.  (Well, then there’s flea markets.)  If what was once cool is now clunky and obsolete, it will pause briefly on a dollar store shelf on its way to the grave.  You can still buy a VHS tape at a dollar store, but the selection is scarce as garden rake tines.  DVD’s are now there, sold in too heavily, and not moving nearly quickly enough.  DVR’s, Netflix, and downloading already rule.  So seize as much from the dollar stores as you can while you can, but the next publishing frontier (digital, virtual, and viral) is already pushing books into the last civilized retail channel.  For how long?  Who knows.

The book (and I use the term loosely) business could be ubiquitous rather than economically sectarian. If good books will sell in a dollar store, they will sell just about anywhere.  The issue is:  can publishers and booksellers figure out how to distribute them where everyone is?  Publishers have ignored the provinces of the other half of America for so long that it’s hard to know if they can or will be creative enough to develop accessible products (educationally, economically, topically, and geographically) that can reach ALL of mankind.  But in a new world where revenues will be down even if readership were to go up (and that’s, as my mom would say, a BIG IF), finding ways to reach every human is a worthy if essential goal.

What implications do you see?

Maybe–For Once–You Should Give a Cow

October 22, 2009

give a pigI just received for the second time a catalog that unabashedly claims to be “The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World.”

Turns out…it is.

The catalog is from Heifer (yes, like the cow) International.  And with it or its website,, you can buy a cow–or a sheep or a lama or chickens or rabbits.  Not for yourself, Silly, but for people in impoverished nations.  In some parts of the world, a cow can transform a community by providing milk for a family (that improves health) then providing income for school attendance and medicines, then, ultimately, calves that can be given to a neighbor…replicating the process.  For $500 bucks you can give a whole cow.  Or for just 50 bucks you buy a share of a cow.  $120 will give a goat that provides milk, $60 will send a needy family three rabbits, and 20 dollar bills will buy a whole flock of geese.  And sending fractions of these amounts can help you share in the giving the gift, even if you can’t afford the whole, er, hog.  You can get in the action for as little as 10 bucks.

heifer international

The receiving families are taught how to raise the animals to the best advantage of the family and the community.  Heifer attempts a holistic approach to building sustainable communities, including:

  • Agroecology
  • Animal Well-Being
  • Gender Equity
  • Microenterprise
  • Urban Agriculture

All with a heavy emphasis on teaching the young.

Check it out.  There’s nothing you could purchase from the Neiman Marcus catalog that will bring you as much joy.

Author Saves a Library

September 14, 2009

libraryI love it when book professionals decide to be bigger than their jobs.  Today’s case involves a British children’s author, Nick Arnold, who initiated a movement that saved a local library (in Appledore, Devon).  Once at the top of the libraries-to-be-closed list, the library is now funded AND looking to relocate to larger facilities.  Arnold’s approach is instructive:

Rather than insisting that local authorities fund the library, Arnold said communities should: “find out the reasons they are giving for closing the library, and then make it harder for them to do so”.


  • Helped set up a committee to raise support and forge alliances within the community (schools and parents groups, in particular).
  • Campaigned to increase foot traffic in the library, which he attributes to ultimately saving the library.
  • Helped launch a local book festival.nick arnold website
  • Lent his name and celebrity to the effort.

Author Alan Gibbons, who heads the Campaign for the Book in support of library services, said: “Many authors are already acting as ambassadors for their local library services and this campaign hopes to galvanise those activities. Authors can often lend celebrity status to community activities and can help raise the profile of local libraries.”

By the way, Arnold’s site is fabulous.  Check out his books, like “Bulging Brains.”

Hard Rock Nashville Loans Staff to Charities

September 9, 2009

hard rock nashville picSo what do you do with your employees if you have to shut down your business for three months to remodel?  In the case of the Nashville Hard Rock Cafe, the answer:

loan them out to local charities and pay them in full to do so.

(And you thought “Love All, Serve All” was little more than a hippie-infused, 70’s cliche that meant servers wear flowers in their hair and the day’s leftovers head to the local food bank.)

Yes, Nashville’s Hard Rock is paying its staff of cooks and servers–all 71 of them–to work with local non-profits through local non-profit aggregator, Hands On Nashville.Hands On Nashville logo

To hear the Hard Rock management tell it, it’s just a sound business decision.  After all, it would take them more than a month just to re-tool their serving staff to hire and prep for the reopen.  Indeed–their current staff would have been long gone, hired out to every other restaurant in the city.  On the other hand, national workplace consultant, John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., has never heard of such a thing.

The Nashville Hard Rock Cafe’s actions are above-and-beyond value for everyone, and may set a new standard for the Hard Rock chain globally, and inspire employers everywhere:

  • For the Hard Rock, they keep their already-trained staff, they win the hearts of a staff and community that admires loyalty in an employer, and they demonstrate that their corporate motto isn’t just air pudding.  Their love and service starts at home–with their own people.  Plus, they can hit the ground running in the new store with an experienced staff.
  • For their staff, they stay employed, and you can bet a C-note they won’t run off to the next restaurant that lets them have a 5-table section instead of just a 4.  Plus, they learn the joy of working for more than their own paycheck.
  • For the non-profits and community, they gain from the impact 2000 hours a WEEK of service can make.

What an equally radical and sublime action.

So here’s CV’s question:  does or could your company think like this?

P.S.  Take a peek at the Hard Rock’s philanthropy page to see a picture of what committed, corporate social responsibility might look like.

CV Score:  18

hard rock cv score

Disney and Libraries Join to Encourage Reading

August 28, 2009

disney logoAccording to England’s version of PW–the Bookseller–the Reading Agency has partnered with Disney and libraries up and down the country to encourage children to spend more time reading.

The 5 Minutes More campaign will run a challenge throughout September – where children with their parents and carers try to spend five more minutes reading and story telling.

Around 2,000 public libraries in 102 library authorities across the UK will run a “5 Minutes More Challenge” by incorporating it into existing library-based family reading activities.


Library staff from 40 libraries will also visit their local Disney Store events to promote reading and library membership and Disney Store staff VoluntEARS will visit their local libraries to join in activities. Disney Stores will direct customers to their local library for advice about children’s books and reading.

This program has all the attributes of a serious plan to raise up a generation of readers.  The celebrity power of a major movie studio working with libraries to make reading relevant is key to turning kids’ heads.  Check out my Reader Creation and Development page to see several reasons why the book industry worldwide needs to get on this kind of bandwagon.

Librarian Tattoos Change Image for a Good Cause

July 30, 2009

tattooed ladies of tlaLast year it was the male librarians of Texas who flaunted their tattoos in a calendar sold to raise money for libraries damaged by Rita and Katrina.  They raised $9000 and the eyebrows of–well–the world.  Librarians?  Tats?  Who knew?

This year it’s the lady librarians turn.  Good for them.  And good for books.

I’ve been arguing that reading needs to be perceived as much sexier than it currently is (and I’ve had support from the higher echelons of the American library’s hierarchy) if we hope to raise today’s young people to be readers.  This effort moves in that direction without porning up or prostituting the libraries.  It communicates that librarians–the people who want you to read–aren’t fuddy-duds.

14-year-old boys don’t often wander into a library of their own free will.  But, gosh, we need them to.  Being motivated to slink through the library doors by the possibility of glimpsing the librarian’s tats is junior-high stupid, but it’s a start.

Books for Wannabe Lovers

July 2, 2009

borders uk online dating

Books are for lovers, not just book lovers.

Or so goes the logic of publisher Penguin UK and bookseller Borders UK who both recently launched dating websites–which, of course, promote and sell books (coincidentally about love, dating, and relationships).

Strategically, I’m sure these book companies simply want to sell more books.  Not waiting around for online dating services to advertise and sell books, and rather taking matters into their own hands seems logical, if not a belatedly brilliant solution.

But in the larger picture, they are striding toward the kind of book ubiquity that promotes reading, generally.

Books must be everywhere–not just bookstores, book departments, libraries, or book websites–if more Americans are going to become readers.  And it’s only the book industry that can impel a shift in the cultural climate if they hope to gain market share from other forms of entertainment.

penguin online dating

These two online dating websites demonstrate leadership on all three levels, even if inadvertent.  I hope they sign up millions of love-hungry subscribers.

Now, on to gardening, motorcycles, crafting, fly fishing, canning, computing…

UK Publisher Targets Teens at Spinebreakers

June 29, 2009

spinebreakersThanks to I’ve learned that Penguin Publishers UK have a teen website for teen readers of books called Spinebreakers.  It’s a very cool site unlike anything I’ve found in the U.S.

The site embraces many of the attributes of creating and developing readers that this blog has been advocating for months.  See my page on Reader Creation and Development, especially idea #3:–Make Reading Sexy.  Penguin says so themselves:

“We want to make reading sexy for this age group”, says Anna Rafferty, Penguin’s online marketing director.

You’ll love this site.

  1. Everything about the look of the site screams “teen.”
  2. The site is written, monitored, and promoted by and for teens.
  3. The site integrates live events with authors and bands with books.
  4. It encourages teens to submit their own takes on the books they read going so far as encouraging them to re-write the endings.
  5. It runs contests for short story writing.
  6. It promotes up-and-coming bands and their relationship with books (launching July 6).
  7. It even promotes the “classics.”

If books alone don’t hook kids, the music and live events will.

Spinebreakers is encouraging the next generation to get into reading by demonstrating the intimate relationship between culture and the books the culture produces that influence the world we live in.  To reach the rising generations, all publishers must champion the kind of ingenuity Penguin UK is already adopting.