Booknews: Riding the 'Cluetrain'
Judith Rosen -- 4/3/00
A manifesto on the electronic equivalent of the church door is turned into a best-selling book
Back in December 1998, when marketing gurus Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger first began talking about trying to bring an end to business as usual, putting their ideas into book form was far from their minds.
Wanting something more immediate, they decided to pattern their communication after Martin Luther and tack their 95 theses on the electronic equivalent of the church door, the Internet.
Three months later, www.cluetrain. com was born, "to say things that were obvious to most of the people who had been on the Web but were being neglected in the media, which preferred to focus on the dot-coms and Internet bizillionaires," explained NPR commentator Weinberger, publisher of the zine JOHO.
The authors' main point--that the connectedness of the Web is transforming what's inside and outside of companies, both customers and employees--seems obvious, but as compelling demonstrated in a quote from an executive from a former Fortune 500 company, one that is often overlooked. 'The clue train stopped here four times a day for 10 years," noted this executive, "PWand they never took a delivery."
The fab four's declarations struck an immediate chord. The very next day, David Miller, director of the Garamond Agency in Boston, called Locke & company about writing a book.
"Partly what I picked up on," recalled Miller, "was the very immediate excitement. All of a sudden, something called 'cluetrain' was being talked about. It's a good example of what the Web can do in terms of getting an idea out there. Then transitioning to a book makes sense because the authors have more space to express their ideas. Not many people think of writing a Web site that's 250 or 300 pages long."
The four negotiated with Miller and each other via phone and e-mail before agreeing to expand their ideas on making businesses responsive to individuals, rather than impersonal demographic sectors, into a book. Jacqueline Murphy, executive editor of Perseus Publishing, who submitted the winning bid, acknowledged that for her part, "it was hard to know how an idea coming out of a Web site would turn into a book." The reverse, creating a Web site to promote a book, is more common.
But Murphy's faith that a book by four tech-savvy consultants who had never seen each other face-to-face--they met in person for the first time in June 1999 to begin writing the book, and then a second time in August, when the project was complete--has paid off by even the most traditional business standards.
To date, The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, which was published in February, has 50,000 copies in print after four trips to press, and has appeared on business bestseller lists for the New York Times, Business Week and Amazon.com.
The book has also begun climbing general nonfiction lists, starting with the San Francisco Chronicle, where it was #14 the week of March 26, and is hovering just below the top 20 on the New York Times list.
Cluetrain has been feted online by all the usual suspects, including Salon, Fatbrain and Wired. It was selected to inaugurate Fast Company's online book club in February. Even Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos appended a recommendation of the book at the end of his open letter on patents, which was posted on his site in early March.
While much of the marketing has been "viral," the online equivalent of word-of-mouth, there were the more typical press packets to reviewers and that old marketing standby, the T-shirt. The book is obviously selling well at the dot-coms, and there are sales links from the authors' individual sites. But bricks-and-mortar stores, too, are starting to feel the Net effect, and for the past few weeks Cluetrain has been among the top 100 books in sales reported by Book Sense bookstores.
Publicity director Lissa Warren is excited about the bytes and ink the book has received without violating thesis #17: "Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone." On a personal note, she added, "Cluetrain has changed my approach to publicity. I see the way a groundswell of media can lead to major national media. That way it grows and grows. Otherwise, you get these big national hits too soon, and the book just disappears."
For his part, Christopher Locke, who publishes the e-zine Entropy Gradient Reversals, has been converted to the value of print books. He is the first of the four to sign a contract for a solo book, although Weinberger is also at work on a proposal for a business book on the Web. Locke's Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices is scheduled to come out from Perseus next year.
And for those who find the print world too slow, the first part of Locke's book is on Esther Dyson's www.edventure.com site; it was featured in the February issue of her Release 1.0 newsletter.
Bumping Up 'Exuberance'
The timing was just about perfect. Hoping to provide an important perspective on the current stock frenzy, Princeton University Press decided in late February to accelerate publication of Irrational Exuberance by Yale economics professor Robert J. Shiller, originally planned for a May release.
The house managed to secure a new printing date of March 15--and books fortuitously hit stores just after the latest example of "irrational exuberance," the major market surge of March 17.
Shiller essentially rains on this parade--he argues that current market conditions are a Ponzi scheme that will collapse and bring about a decade of decline--and both media and readers are taking notice. The New York Times, the New Yorker, USA Today and the Boston Globe all discussed the book pre-pub.
The attention convinced Princeton to double its original 7,500 first printing to a 15,000-copy release. At press time, the house had ordered a second printing of 10,000 more.
One hopes Shiller's bearish outlook--he suggests those who expect to cash out their investments in 20 years to expect annual return rates of only 1% or so--is at least somewhat mistaken. But, unfortunately, his words have proved prescient--or least influential--before. As the New Yorker noted, when Shiller explained his "irrational exuberance" to Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan in a meeting in 1996, Greenspan picked up the phrase and uttered it publicly, precipitating a dramatic--although thankfully short-term--stock dive. --J.Q.
Hooking 'Em on Classics
Random House's Modern Library captured a lot of media attention and increased displays and book sales, thanks to the 100 Best Books of the Century list. HarperCollins, faced with promoting its new and somewhat comparable line, Perennial Classics, at around the same time, has taken a different approach: asking booksellers, and now consumers, to name their favorite book.
Some 300 booksellers responded to the offer of a free Perennial Classic title as part of a promotion that asked booksellers to hand-sell their favorite classics to readers. Booksellers' top three books were Essays of E.B. White, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and One Hundred Years of Solitude.
This year, in a second-wave program running February 21-April 28, consumers are being asked to write a 250-word essay describing their favorite classic, for a chance to win a three-day/two-night trip to the Big Apple as well as the (for now) 43-title Perennial Classics collection. Five second-place winners will also receive a collection.
More than 100 booksellers nationwide have signed up to display contest materials. Ads running in the New Yorker during the contest period drive consumers to stores; they also can enter the contest at www.perrennialclassics.com.
This coming fall brings even more riches to the new line: Harper will draw from new sister companies Morrow and Avon for its annual six to 10 books per season output. These will include Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, originally from Morrow, and Bernard Malamud's The Assistant and The Natural from Avon.
Harper's repackaging of backlist has already paid off: since the launch of Perennial Classics, the house has seen sales increases of up to 30% for the titles now within the collection. --J.Q.
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