As audiobook listeners increasingly turn to digital content, how do publishers catch those ears (and eyes), especially during the holiday gift-buying season? While a number of audiobook marketing executives say the aim of promotional efforts should be to draw attention to audio regardless of format, there are some different avenues that can be used to highlight digital editions.
The biggest challenge in the digital marketing scenario, according to Linda Lee, v-p and general manager for Scholastic Audio, is to give one’s programs an edge in a crowded field. “Since many digital distributors are able to offer hundreds of thousands of titles—compared to retail hard-copy resellers, who might have product SKUs only in the thousands—it is hard to have a title stand out,” she says. “Therefore we usually have to be far more aggressive with our promotions in the digital space.” As examples of means of drawing in consumers, she cites offering larger discounts and even free titles. “We try to focus these highly discounted and/or free offers on first-of-series titles,” she says, hoping to hook listeners who will want to purchase subsequent titles at full price at a later date.
Hachette Audio takes a similar tack: “One thing we do to promote digital audio is create special low-priced offers for download titles we know make great gifts, particularly when we have a tie-in moment—for example, when a new book in the series is coming out in hardcover, or when the title we’re downpricing is newly available in paperback,” says Megan Fitzpatrick, director of marketing and publicity.
At Tantor Audio, marketing manager Cassandra McNeil says that though she plans various discounts throughout the holiday shopping season, “the big digital focus for us comes after the holidays, where we can change the focus to asking, ‘Did you get a new MP3 player/audio device?’ and then offering sales to help listeners choose new titles for their new devices.”
Not surprisingly, such downloadable audio promotions are a perfect fit with social media, and the majority of publishers that PW spoke with mentioned targeting listeners via Facebook, Instagram, and SoundCloud, that latter of which, Fitzpatrick says, is “one of our most crucial social media channels—we have 386,000 followers.” Samantha Edelson, marketing director at Macmillan Audio, says that advertising on social media, as well as with bloggers or podcasts, as ways to extend the company’s digital reach. And Sarah Lieberman, v-p and marketing director for Simon & Schuster Audio, points to the role authors can play in the promotion process. “Many of our authors are increasingly supportive and excited about audio,” she says, and they work together to promote audio titles through the author’s various channels as well. To that end, Lieberman says that she and her team focus on procuring behind-the-scenes material—recorded interviews, videos, in-the-studio photos—that could be used for promotion, or even as bonus material for a published recording: “It’s on our mind for every single person that comes through the studio. We think it adds to the consumer sense of being a part of what we’re doing.”
But Lieberman echoes many of her colleagues when she says that in general, “marketing practices for physical and digital audio aren’t markedly different.” She adds, “The focus is always to bring attention to the audio program, and the format doesn’t matter.” Edelson says her company embraces the same philosophy: “With audio, the key is awareness—letting consumers know that a title is available as an audiobook; it’s not important what format.”
The emphasis on awareness is a result of the way that downloadable audiobooks are distributed. Publishers typically make downloadable audio available direct to consumers through a number of channels, which can include the publisher’s website, subscription services like Audible, and various e-tailers. Patrick Deering, marketing director at Recorded Books, explains that since most of his company’s titles are available from several distributors, much of Recorded Books’ marketing promotes titles, authors, and narrators “with the intention that someone viewing the ad might use that information to purchase the titles from another source.” Also, Deering says that Recorded Books has begun “playing with a consumer-facing website,” goodlistens.com, allowing the publisher to “link ads and press releases” and include other bonus material, such as interviews and sound clips that will provide more information to listeners.
Publishers use traditional advertising to promote downloadable audio as well. “We’re doing format-agnostic holiday advertising in trade publications, but also trying to reach new audiences with holiday ads in the Atlantic Monthly and the Los Angeles Times,” Fitzpatrick says of Hachette. Macmillan is among the other companies running audio group ads that promote a number of the publisher’s audiobooks in major print publications for the holiday. Penguin Random House Audio has crafted a series of holiday group ads that include taglines such as “Listen While You Cook!” and encourage listening during holiday travel. The company is also advertising its Volumes app (launched earlier this year), available in the Apple App Store. Via Volumes, listeners can access extended excerpts of titles as well as some free full-length audiobook downloads. Continuing in the app realm, last month, Hachette announced the release of five bestselling audiobooks as stand-alone mobile apps, which, according to the publisher, offers a listening experience at a significant discount off the suggested retail price of a downloadable audiobook.
Regardless of format or point of purchase, audio publishers all express the same holiday wish: that their titles get discovered.