Founded by Peter Workman in 1968, Workman Publishing Company is one of the largest independent publishers of trade books and calendars. Publisher of such blockbusters as What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Water for Elephants, Workman is known for their high-quality titles and innovative marketing strategies. As one of BookBub’s earliest publisher partners, we asked Thea James, Workman’s Director of Digital Strategy and Operations, for some insights into how they think about ebook marketing and promotion.
BookBub: Could you tell us a bit about your role at Workman?
Thea James: I oversee sales, promotions and operations for digital products. This includes day-to-day management of Workman’s ebook accounts (including online retailers, distributors, and libraries), distribution of ebook files and metadata, as well as the creation and execution of strategic ebook marketing and price promotions.
BB: Workman is widely considered one of the most innovative publishers in terms of digital marketing. How do you decide what new marketing avenues to pursue? And how do you determine whether a new tool or service was successful?
TJ: We appreciate that! Workman (and our various divisions) publishes a broad range of content, the majority of which is non-narrative nonfiction — we have a wealth of titles in the cookbook, crafting, sustainable living, and gardening spaces. Traditionally, it has been difficult to secure prominent merchandising or visibility for these types of titles with traditional ebook sales channels, so we’ve had to think creatively about new ways to ensure consumers discover our titles digitally. This also means that we are open to experimentation, particularly when it comes to the digital marketing and promotion of our ebook titles. While we’re willing to experiment with new avenues and tools, we keep a close eye on analytics to measure the effectiveness of these new avenues. In order to determine whether or not an experiment was successful, we always evaluate quantifiable results, such as email newsletter subscribers, social media followers, or most importantly, conversion to sale.
BB: When and why did Workman start experimenting with pricing and, specifically, price promotions? Have you found them to be an effective marketing tool thus far?
TJ: Given the challenges we’ve faced in securing traditional ebook retailer placement for our titles online, we’ve been pointedly experimenting with ebook price promotion since 2010. We’ve participated in retailer-initiated price promotions, but more importantly have created our own promotional programs centered around our category verticals — since 2011, we’ve created ongoing consumer-facing programs for our cookbooks, our sustainable living titles, as well as our gardening titles. Thus far, we’ve found these to be tremendously effective, from both a consumer relationship and digital sales perspective.
BB: What strategies do you employ when deciding what books to discount? Workman often does monthly themed deals for their various imprints, for example — how do you come up with these themes and have you found this “bundling” to be effective?
TJ: With our ongoing promotional programs, we find that having a clear message and central “theme” are incredibly important and effective. For example, Workman’s Blue Plate Special is a monthly ecookbook club in which we downprice a group of titles each month for $3.99 or less. These titles are united by a central theme – January’s theme focused on football game-time recipes – which informs our newsletters, our blog posts, and our social media messaging to customers for the month. We tend to plan out these editorial themes at least six months in advance and share this information with our ebook distribution partners, which sometimes leads to some nice cross-merchandising on e-retail sites.
As for the themes themselves, we try to tie our editorial calendar to seasonal events (such as BCS games and the upcoming Super Bowl, sweets for Valentine’s Day, summer grilling), however we have been running these programs for nearly two years, so we have a good historical data set of successful and less-successful themes to draw upon. We know, for example, that our Blue Plate Special subscribers are more interested in easy one-pot weeknight meals than they are in complicated artisanal handmade candies.
BB: Workman publishes a wide array of content — from fiction to cookbooks to self-help. Have you found that certain authors or genres tend to work better for price promotions than others?
TJ: Unsurprisingly, our fiction and narrative nonfiction (memoir, bio) titles have the strongest sales results to date. That said, we’ve seen growth in our cookbook price promotions, and this past holiday season saw tremendous results with our promotion of crafting ebooks. While our big-name authors and brands tend to perform the best in price promotions, we’ve certainly seen some surprising and encouraging results from unexpected niche categories (including an organization how-to manual and a book on Native American herbal healing remedies).
BB: Many of our partners use price promotions to promote novels in a series by discounting the first title and hoping readers go on to read the rest. However, Workman has also run some really successful promotions in genres where series aren’t as common — such as nonfiction. How have you effectively used price promotions in these categories historically?
TJ: Nonfiction, particularly non-narrative nonfiction, is a trickier animal to promote than a traditional fiction series — there isn’t the same immediate cliffhanger call to action to get the next cookbook or knitting title once you’ve finished book one! We try to apply that same “hook” principle in a different way with our nonfiction titles — we use price promotions largely as a discovery and consumer education tool. Because these types of titles aren’t actively merchandised at the retail level, our hypothesis is that consumers simply don’t know that cookbooks are available as ebooks and that they both look good and are incredibly useful. With the lower price points, we hope to encourage consumers to give these titles a try, and convert them to full-priced sales of other ebooks in that category.
BB: Could you tell us about one of Workman’s recent BookBub listings? Why did you decide to run a promotion with us for this title? Would you be willing to share any of your results?
TJ: We align our ongoing ebook price promotion programs with our BookBub listings, and where possible we try to time these listings with big media hits or retailer promotion. One of our more successful recent BookBub promotions, for example, was for Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt (a fiction title from Workman’s Algonquin division). We timed the BookBub listing with a major daily deal with online retailers, and with Algonquin’s own social media and blog support – the results of which catapulted the title onto the New York Times bestseller list for the first time.
BB: Over the past year, how has the role of a digital marketer at a traditional publishing house evolved? What sorts of things are you focusing on now that you weren’t, say, five years ago?
TJ: Now more than ever, the digital sales and promotions group is cognizant of the importance of building up our own direct to consumer channels, particularly as many other, larger publishers start to participate more aggressively in ebook price promotions. Increasingly we are aware that we need to forge connections directly with our readers and rely less on third parties — to that end, we’re very focused on growing our promotional programs in 2014 and beyond.
BB: What are you looking forward to in 2014 in terms of upcoming marketing campaigns or new promotional opportunities? How about some great Workman titles we should look out for in the coming weeks?
TJ: I’m excited to continue working on our existing promotional verticals (Workman’s Blue Plate Special, Storey’s Fresh Picks, Algonquin’s Lucky Stars, and others) in 2014, but I’m also eager to expand these programs in areas where we’ve started to see strong digital sales — particularly in the mindful living space, and in the crafting realm.
I’m also incredibly excited for our upcoming digital list — we have a great array of titles for every kind of reader. Gourmand Patricia Wells’ The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris (Workman, 3/11/2014) is newly expanded and updated this spring with over 300 new restaurants, cafés and bistros added to the guide (as a bonus, our incredible print marketing team has organized a sweepstakes trip to France and a big-name third party partnership for the launch of the title). Austin Kleon has a new book this March called Show Your Work (Workman, 3/11/2014) along the same creative, forward-thinking lines as Steal Like An Artist — this title, I think, has great application for authors looking to get their titles discovered online, and for marketers in any industry. Finally, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Algonquin, 4/1/2014) is our breakout fiction title on the list, and has already garnered rave reviews. I cannot wait for book-lovers to discover this heart-warming title about a curmudgeonly small-town bookseller whose life is upended by the arrival of an unexpected visitor.
BB: Anything else you’d like to share with authors and book marketers — about the state of publishing today; marketing internationally; building a brand; etc — would be great!
TJ: One of the things I love the most about the digital group here at Workman is the willingness to experiment when it comes to our titles and promotions – but also our careful eye towards analytics and performance metrics. Two of us here in the digital group have non-publishing industry backgrounds in economics and statistics, which I think helps guide our decision-making processes when it comes to pricing and promotions in particular. If something works, we try to understand why and replicate that success with other titles; if something doesn’t work, we similarly dig into the results and try to understand our failures. Which is to say, the more that authors and book marketers can rely on real-time data, the better informed their decisions, and the more successful their campaigns will be.
To find out more about Workman, you can visit their website at www.workman.com.
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