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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 theBooksellers.com 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.

Godin Rants and Intro to Reading

June 18, 2009

When I read Seth Godin, I frequently notice that his theorems are exceptionally useful when cross-hatched over other people’s writings from other disciplines. His principles usually apply far beyond the scope of his marketing-oriented observations.  (I’m sure that’s by design, and part of his genius.)  My most popular post to date was a riff I did laying Godin’s ideas about “tribes” (along with Mark Penn’s Microtrends) on top of the idea of retailing.

And I’m not the only one.  Donor Power Blog, for instance, frequently quotes Godin applying his ideas in the non-profit world.

Here’s another.  Take Godin’s Textbook Rant from a few days ago and run it up  beside Bill Croke’s lament at the American Spectator that kids just don’t read like they used to.  Godin rails against the education establishment’s practice of forcing expensive, out-of-date, and boring marketing textbooks on marketing students–calling the practice “theft or laziness”–when so many other creative, less expensive alternatives are available.  Croke, on the other hand, longs for the pre-personal computer good-ole-days when “good literature” sprung from dead authors and 50-cent paperbacks from Scholastic, and seems to believe that the way he was taught to read is the way it should still be today.

Croke would be well-advised to read Godin before he complains.

But you read the two posts for yourself.  What think ye?  Clearly, whatever the literary canon is for middle and high schoolers doesn’t inspire reading particularly much these days.  Is the solution to go back to the Good Ole Days?  Is the reason kids give up on reading in middle school basically the same reason Intro to Marketing sucks?

Books and Their Competition: Bowker’s Latest Report

June 5, 2009

At BEA last week, Bowker’s James Howitt presented Data Crunch: Books and Their Competition for Leisure Time Attention – How do They Stack Up? Below, I’ve embedded his powerpoint.  It’s a must-scan document for book marketers.

From a book industry point of view, this analysis goes farther to examine book consumers in light of the culture than any report I’ve seen.   It does, like most studies done by book industry people, focus on “book buyers'” habits with little comparison to the non-reader/non-buyer.  Still, some important stats should put a little fear in and a little fire under the book industry.

  1. The number of Americans over age 13 that purchased a book in 2008 is down 20% from 2007 (from 62% down to 50%)
  2. Book reading in 2008 was down from 2007.  Online viewing was up.  Book buyers spend 3 times as much time online as they do with a book.  (You can bet that for non-buyers this gap is much wider.)
  3. Roughly 70% of books are bought by Baby Boomers and their parents.

So here’s the question:  what do the stats have to reveal before the industry says, “Maybe we should focus on converting non-readers into readers”?

Exceptions in the Heart of Business

June 3, 2009

military family at Nashville airportThe Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has barred non-fliers from accompanying fliers past security checkpoints ever since 9-11. The practice has de-personalized flying–no more hello/goodbye kisses at the gate for any of us anymore, and sometimes inexperienced children are left to wait alone without parental companionship.

Yesterday, for the first time I noticed a dozen military troupes waiting to board their commercial plane–accompanied by their families for last-minute hugs and kisses. I watched as one man came up to a soldier and said, “I’ve been where you are. Blessings on you. And blessings for you too, ma’am.” I said a prayer for those families I wouldn’t have thought to offer had I not seen the spouses and children. I wasn’t probably not the only one.

This military allowance may have been in force all along and I’m just not very observant, or it may have been a local Nashville thing.  And truthfully, I’ve viewed few organizations as more anal than the TSA, until now.  Regardless, to see this accommodation in practice was a reminder that institutions–government, business, nonprofit, or church–often show their heart through its exceptions.

Rules help erect and stabilize our structures. Policies control the workforce and the media.  Standards ensure consistency, brand identity, and even safety. But even if your product is inherently heart-full, it doesn’t mean your organization or reputation is (read some Jesus–he was big on this observation).

It’s our exceptions-to-the-rule that often demonstrate that the institution cares:

  • the disenfranchised we let in
  • the interest we reduce
  • the meaningful things we give away to people who can’t afford it
  • the people we try to intentionally heal
  • the size of the charitable budget

Sometimes the accommodations are part of the plan; sometimes they’re not.  But often, it’s how an organization handles its opportunities to bring value to people who are not in the mainstream–not the core customer–that defines it.  One thing you can count on:  if your organization truly has a heart for people, it will have that reputation–and vice versa.

BEA Preaches to the Choir, Yet Again

May 27, 2009

book expo americaBook Expo America, the nation’s biggest book convention opens in New York today.  I wish I were going.  I love coasting the aisles snooping for the latest in book design and purloining galleys like a junky in a back alley.

But, educationally, BEA continues to make no strides toward enlightening publishers about their shrinking customer base.  Instead, it drinks from the same Kool-Aid pitcher everyone else in publishing is doing:  catching the digital cruise liner will have enough gee-whiz factor to keep the ship afloat.

A hundred classes will tell publishers and sellers how the customers they already have think and behave, but precious little information will be disseminated about the majority of Americans who are non-readers or how to convert them.

Here’s the list–double check me.  Even the bloggers are all about the books and literature, while no one is critiquing the sociological and educational shifts away from reading–er, I mean buying books.  NO evangelistic (let’s go convert people into becoming readers!!) forum is on the schedule.  Nothing about literacy.

I guess the industry is still happy with its occasional three-percent years.  Or it’s in somebody’s best interest not to talk about the elephant in the room.

That elephant, though, represents the real future of book publishing and sales–if people can’t or don’t want to read they will not buy your books, regardless of the format in which they are delivered.  Text-on-paper, text-on-pixel, or text-on-side-of-barn won’t make any difference to the growing number of people who couldn’t care less what BEA is doing this weekend.  Perhaps our thinking is that as long as the ship is still afloat, we should keep partying. What rusty hull?bea blogger schedule

One, count it, one seminar actually intends to address the popularity of reading:  Data Crunch: Books and Their Competition for Leisure Time Attention – How do They Stack Up? by the Bowker people.  That lecture will be well-worth attending, but I’m guessing it won’t be SRO.

I know I’m about as much fun to listen to as a tuba in a symphony, but these seminars should be on the docket:

  • Image Change:  Turning Reading from Frumpy to Sexy
  • Stronger in Numbers:  What Could Happen if Publishers Worked Together
  • Why Got Milk? Works and Get Caught Reading Doesn’t
  • Flexing Our Muscles:  How Publishing Could Impact American Education and Public Policy to Improve Literacy
  • Reader Creation and Development:  A Strategic Plan for Converting and Retaining the Non-Reader
  • How to Create High Interest/Low Level Books While Making a Profit and Changing the World
  • Know the Literacy Field:  Which Organizations, Celebrities, and Politicians Will Partner With You
  • Why Its Not Enough to Market to “Book People”
  • Basic Math:  What Happens When People Don’t Read (Hint: They Don’t Buy Books)
  • Book Publishing’s Macro-Economics:  New Metrics for Publishing Success

Oh, and one last one:

Why You Can’t Grow a Church While Schmoozing With the Choir