As the week begins, I am feeling decidedly under the weather; last night, I was flipping through magazines in a somewhat desultory fashion, rereading the same sentences again and again, watching paragraphs swim before my eyes, and otherwise making little actual headway. The time I failed to spend reading, however, I devoted to looking at pictures. Namely, book ads. Which are, along with the New Yorker’s weird assortment of sterling silver pet pins/pendants (who, I ask, buys the “European Beret?”), of particular interest. Book ads—whether placed in publication local or national—have long been a staple of publishers’ promotional arsenal, but I’m curious to get your take: has an ad ever driven, or even heavily influenced, your decision to buy a book?
I’m not sure that I can point to a time when an ad alone propelled me to the bookstore (or the library) though February’s Harper’s boasts a full page ad for 36 Arguments for the Existence of God that may well do the trick. I was pleased to spot a New Yorker ad for Simon Mawer’s superb The Glass Room, and I hope that it will drive other readers toward this very smart novel. But it’s difficult to measure the impact of traditional advertising—no click-throughs, no totting up eye-balls or page views. Which is why I’d love to hear your opinion. Do you pay attention to print book ads? Where do they have most impact? Do they influence your choice? And if not, what does?
Publishers, as you probably realize, do not run ads for every book they publish. Advertising and marketing dollars are carefully allocated, with big names generally commanding the biggest budgets (and sometimes the budgets, period) and usually, ads are given to books that are: 1) lead titles 2) already working 3) or have garnered such astonishing reviews that it makes sense to pay to shout it from the rooftops. Publishers rarely count on ads to get the ball rolling, but rather to build or maintain existing momentum. So perhaps an ad alone would not motivate a sale, but a good review, and interview on NPR, capped off by an effective ad in a favorite magazine (one that quotes the other review you might have missed) these might create some sort of tipping point.
Not everyone agrees with this hypothetical; indeed, there are plenty of people who think ads are essentially useless (or worse yet, expensive ways of appeasing agents and big-name authors). Whatever the reason, publishers have certainly cut back. The NYTBR is still the sine qua non, but even there, the costs of a full page ads has fallen precipitously.
When, for better or for worse, publishers decide that the traditional ad model doesn’t work (too much money for too little gain) it has unintended ripple effects across the publishing ecosystem. Falling ad revenue shuttered both the Washington Post Book World and the LA Times Book Review, which in turn means fewer influential places to be reviewed. There are, of course, many book-related sites online, but so far, none have quite the reach that publishers are hoping for.
I’m curious to know how you weigh in.