May 7, 2005

How Freakonomics Was Marketed onto the Bestseller List:

The Book Standard reports:

Getting a Buzz On: How Publishers Are Turning Online to Market Books May 06, 2005 By Rachel Deahl

“Buzz” is close to supplanting “love” as an overused, devalued—but very effective—term. In the book world, it’s credited with being the reason some titles become bestsellers while others, well, don’t... These kinds of success stories have driven publishers like William Morrow, which recently launched a successful marketing campaign to promote one of its latest titles, Freakonomics, to focus on generating buzz for a book above all else. And to do it online.

Published April 12, Freakonomics has found a larger-than-expected audience, due partly to publisher William Morrow’s strategically placed advance copies, some with industry professionals, but perhaps more importantly, with bloggers.

The book, which melds pop culture with economics to answer riddles such as why most drug-dealers live with their mothers, undoubtedly benefited from positive pre-publication reviews such as Kirkus Reviews and release-date reviews in the Wall Street Journal, Time magazine and others. Nor does it hurt that the book’s high-profile co-authors are Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (the two met when Levitt, a young economist, was being profiled by Dubner, a prominent journalist working on a piece for the New Yorker), has gotten a big push from support within the blogosphere.

Publicists for the book sent galley copies of the title to over a hundred bloggers who, in turn, profiled or reviewed the book on their sites. The result—Freakonomics has sold 34,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen BookScan—has been overwhelmingly positive. Dee Dee DeBartlo, a publicist at Morrow, says the house has targeted bloggers in previous campaigns, but never so strategically.

Freakonomics also got a boost from a similar campaign launched by a company that has styled itself as a buzz-specialist. As part of a 12-week marketing blitz engineered by Boston-based BzzAgent, Inc., advance copies of the title were mailed to a thousand possible supporters. BzzAgent, which works on generating word-of-mouth for various products, contacted a targeted group of “agents”—all of whom have registered with the site, listing their interests and tastes—to read the book. BzzAgent uses its member base for all its campaigns, tapping into an audience that can, theoretically, champion any product. Like Morrow’s blogger outreach, the success of the BzzAgent campaign rested wholly on recipients taking it upon themselves to advertise and recommend the book.

Established in 2001, BzzAgent had an exclusive contract with Penguin until last year. Now, with a focus on books, the company is working with various publishers and, according to Kelly Hulme, BzzAgent’s head of publicity, these campaigns work precisely because they’re about generating good feedback instead of simply manufacturing it. “Books have been our main focus because publishers seem very interested in the honest feedback of readers,” she says. “And because, obviously, word-of-mouth is one of the ways a book catches on.”

Lynn Grady, Morrow’s associate publisher, said Freakonomics got another push from its exposure on the Little Big Mouth List. An industry version of the list BzzAgent used, the tool was established two years ago by the Young Publishers Group (YPG), a networking organization founded by the American Association of Publishers for junior publishing professionals. This list is essentially a collection of members who’ve indicated that they want to receive advance copies of certain genre titles that they will, in turn, recommend to other industry professionals and to the general public. According to the AAP’s Katie Blough, the Little Big Mouth list currently includes 900 members from 50 different houses. Although organized by the AAP, the publishers themselves distribute their titles directly to the “little big mouths,” who have selected the types of books they like, from over 20 genres.

Meanwhile, Dean Soxblog Barnett, who wrote that embarrassingly effusive review of Freakonomics for The Weekly Standard is in a tizzy that I mentioned:

One reason that a number of bloggers are wetting themselves with joy over Freakonomics is because Levitt's publicists put together an innovative PR campaign that made bloggers feel appreciated.

Barnett wants to make it very clear that he didn't qualify for any of the lists of people even marginally influential enough to get a free book. Point taken, Dean!

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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