Yearly Archives: 2009

Making Book Ads Work

“As publishers and authors strive to connect with their audiences through more channels than ever, what can the latest trends in book advertising teach us about how readers are engaging with books on the web and beyond?…”  Thanks to Charlotte Abbott, the Follow the Reader blog, and the #followreader community on Twitter for a thought-provoking week of interviews and live chats. Part one of Charlotte’s interview with Denise Berthiaume and Tom Thompson is here. Part two is here. And the tweetchat summary, “Book ads in the Publishing Ecosystem,” is here.

Verso Reader Channel-Nielsen BookScan Study

Point of sale data collected from Nielsen BookScan shows that Verso Reader Channel campaigns have a strong positive effect on book sales. A Verso Reader Channel study of the first thirty five Reader Channel campaigns shows a statistically significant .588 correlation between weekly sales increases (based on BookScan unit sales data) and number of impressions delivered via Reader Channels campaigns.


As the above graph demonstrates, there is a clear inflection point at the 1.5-2.0 million impression level. This means that campaigns that deliver 1.5 million or more impressions ($10,000 spend at the standard $6 CPM) yield dramatically improved results.

This study also shows that total impressions are a more important metric than click-through rates. The individual ads might not result in an immediate purchase or click, but the impressions increase buyer’s awareness. This supports what we found with recent campaigns in which average to below-average CTRs produced outstanding results in terms of site visits, awareness and, most important, sales.

Beyond the Click Through

From the beginning, online advertising has been touted as something altogether different from print, broadcast and outdoor—an advertising medium where you can truly measure results. Unfortunately, the reality is that when there is so much information to be had, it’s hard to know what’s worth focusing on. In fact, the full-on pursuit of ROI can distract not only from significant results but also from pursuing the kind of thinking we need to create truly innovative and effective marketing campaigns.

Most advertisers concentrate on click-through rate (CTR) as the definitive measure of any digital campaign. But several recent studies from comScore suggest that CTR is not the single most important measurement. By studying search, site traffic and consumer spending patterns, comScore has found a significant correlation between ad impact and consumer behavior for up to four weeks following ad exposure.

The Silent Clicke
from "The Silent Click"—(c) 2009 Online Publishers Association and comScore

You can see from this graph that online ads have a powerful “display” function that resonates beyond the campaign itself, and is not measurable by CTR alone. As Forbes reported on a 2008 study, “comScore found readers were 46% more likely to visit an advertiser’s site within four weeks of seeing its ad online than they were if they did not view an ad.” Verso Digital’s own experience with campaigns for book publishers supports these findings.

Our own projects—on the Reader Channels and throughout the digital sphere—indicate that the most relevant campaign metric is often not CTR, but numbers that reveal other user behavior such as site visitation, engagement, and, most important, sales. While generating outstanding site-engagement, some of our most successful campaigns in fact showed only average to below-average CTRs. In one case, a pre-sales ad campaign for Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded promoted free audio downloads. It led to over 99,000 downloads, 13,000 registered email addresses and 160,000+ users available for retargeting. In another case, an ad campaign promoting a key chain giveaway for John Grogan’s Bad Dogs Have More Fun led to over 100,000 people registering to learn more about the book. The publisher saw major traffic continuing for at least four weeks following the conclusion of the Verso Reader Channel ad campaign—with no additional publicity, promotion or advertising to support it.

CTR remains a useful metric, but only when considered in relationship to sales, traffic, search, and total impressions delivered. Campaigns on premium sites with a great book audience, such as the, often generate CTRs well-above average. But because ads on the site are so expensive, the total number of people reached, and thus the total number of people who click through, is relatively small. For example, a $10,000 spend on a site with a $40 CPM results in 250,000 impressions delivered. When the CPM drops to $5, however, that same $10,000 delivers 2 million impressions. At a standard .1% CTR, $10,000 spent with a $40 CPM delivers 250 clicks. With a relatively below-average .05% CTR, $10,000 spent with a $5 CPM delivers 1,000 clicks. In this scenario, the campaign with the lower CTR actually performed better by delivering more users to the site. For this reason, CTR should always be considered hand-in-hand with total impressions delivered.

The goal of each new marketing campaign—and the measure of its success—must reflect the resources at hand and how you can best reach the community of potential readers. What doesn’t change is the need for flexible ideas and an ability to think through each niche effort in its full context.

Put Your Video to Work

In the past few years, book publishers have created a lot of interesting, entertaining and relevant video content that sits un-watched on You Tube and author websites. The “Post-It-and-They-Will-Come” model is clearly not working. Several major publishers are creating dynamic homepages in hopes that they will become reader destinations and communities. While there is a useful role for these sites as resources for reviewers, news gatherers and others in the industry, none has either the mass scale or niche credibility needed to gain traction with the reading public. One exception might prove to be which is leveraging their Sci-Fi brand and expertise with a publisher-agnostic site.

Verso Digital encourages all publishers to take their video to the book’s audience where it’s most active and engaged online. Here are some strategies for leveraging that content right now.


A recent report from DoubleClick, mirrors our own experience with flash and video book ads—showing that video ads have significantly higher levels of engagement than standard flash ads. Recent technology breakthroughs make it easier than ever to use in video in all kinds of places that were formerly off-limits for technological or budgetary reasons. We have run highly successful video ad campaigns on everything from Facebook apps such as Visual Bookshelf to–and can now run video ads across the entire Verso Reader Channel ad network for a minimal additional cost. All without incurring the additional expense of using a third party server.

As the average time spent online officially passes time spent watching TV, it’s important to remember that viewers don’t necessarily make the same distinction as a professional data company like Bowker does between “TV” and “Online.” With the explosive growth of sites like Hulu, audiences are increasingly accessing TV content online. This creates an opportunity on sites to reach TV audiences in new ways. Hulu’s channels, from News & Information to Sports to Food and Leisure, are a perfect fit for the categories of contemporary publishing. And in the last two months, Verso has had success with campaigns on Hulu’s “Science Fiction” channel for everything from Vampire Romance to an epic Norse poem translated by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The NYTimes R&D Lab has been inspirational in rethinking content and advertising—mixing high-quality reporting with photos, video, audio and Web 2.0-style community-input. There is an ever-increasing array of advertising products associated with this new content, and Verso Digital is taking advantage of them as they come along—not only with the NYTimes iPhone and Blackberry apps, but also with pre-roll and rich-media offerings on the site. It’s important to stay current with what the Times is working on, so Verso teamed up with them for a series of breakfasts that introduce our clients to the latest thinking from R&D. We’ve had two sold-out events so far, featuring such forward-thinking strategists as Martin Nisenholtz and Nick Bilton, and will be scheduling more in the months to come.

While sites like Hulu and allow us to re-purpose the traditional :15-:30 spots we’ve always created, the Web gives us the chance to reimagine how we can use video assets of all kinds. Whether it’s for author blogs, news sites, broadcast-TV, and social media apps, Verso can create or repurpose existing video for use wherever it’s needed. You know all those book trailers you made that are sitting in your digital basement? Well, it’s time to dust them off and put them to work.


Word got around Twitter pretty fast about about an exciting event at London Book Fair (#LBF09) run by the Society of Young Publishers: Canon Tales. See an excellent video on it here. We were impressed with the event’s positive vibe in the middle of what can feel like a never-ending avalanche of bad news. Our own @dberthiaume thought we in the U.S. could do with a similar event at BEA: turning up the volume on what excites the most forward-thinking people in the industry. She brought up the idea with two rising stars, Ryan Chapman and Ami Greko, and they ran with it. They made the calls. We turned on the cameras. And the result left us all feeling like books have a bright future indeed.

Taking the Industry’s Temperature at BEA

Book Expo America is the publishing world’s most important single event of the year. It’s also the single best place to explore the industry’s hopes, fears, challenges, and promise. We talked with people from big houses, innovative independents, indie booksellers, bloggers, and all corners of the business. Here’s a video report we made from those conversations, produced together with IKA Collective (and with a soundtrack provided by Sound Hound). Was BEA 09 “The death march of the industry” or “An incredible rush”? Maybe it was both. But we left feeling like it was one of the most energized and interesting BEAs in memory.

Mobile comes of age

After years of hearing about mobile’s future potential, the market is now fully available to both consumers and advertisers. We have several plans in place to run on relevant apps within the iPhone and Blackberry environments. Because the marketplace for ads has not yet caught up to new consumer habits, it is now possible to gain significant Share Of Voice (SOV) with, for example, the New York Times’ popular iPhone and Blackberry apps. As advertising catches up with these new habits, we expect the costs to rise dramatically to gain this level of SOV. But now is a great time to reach these high income, plugged-in, book-buying audiences for budgets that work for even mid-list titles.

Looking forward, the devices will change, the media will transform, unit size and availability will continue to shift. But whether we’re using Facebook, Twitter, the next mobile device or simply “old-fashioned” flash ads, any marketing strategy must be highly targeted to the most engaged reader pool possible. As the tools evolve, our commitment remains single-pointed: to reach and develop readers, book by book.

Reaching readers through social networks

We know book readers are online, but where can we find them? The first place to look is on the major social networks, particularly Facebook. As reported in the May 18 New York Times, Nielsen confirmed that “Internet use for ‘short-tail’ sites with large audience reach has evolved since 2003. The change is from portal-oriented sites…to social networks.”

Facebook v. MySpace

While social networks were defined for a time by MySpace, American audiences—particularly the audience most likely to purchase a book—have gravitated primarily to Facebook. Despite its recent tailspin, MySpace remains a vibrant network for users interested in music. But for nearly every other category of interest, Facebook is now number one.

In the last six months alone, Facebook has grown from 50 million active U.S. users to 55 million and gains more everyday. Importantly for publishers, the fastest growing demographic is age 35+. It’s now even bigger than the 18-24 age bracket.

Advertising on Facebook, however, can be a challenge. By design, Facebook hampers our ability to deliver premium ad content and determine relevant location, pushing ads off to the side in an unobtrusive column with a small, single, static .jpg for art and limited room for copy. Facebook’s ability to micro-target means that ads do perform reasonably well on the network—in line with most online CTRs of .1-.12%–but certainly not as well as they could given the network’s ideal demo for readers.

Facebook Applications

Verso Digital currently recommends running campaigns on Facebook apps instead of on Facebook itself. Apps keep users within the FB environment and have all the advantages of Facebook—viral connectivity, ease of use, user engagement, and micro-interest ad targeting.  But apps offer several unique advantages, including a pool of highly engaged users (and thus increased potential for viral outreach), greater creative flexibility (including flash and video-enabled rich media), and superior adjacency to relevant content. Recent campaigns have shown not only a significantly higher CTR with Facebook apps than with FB itself, but also an even more potentially powerful viral component. One of the most prominent examples of this viral potential is the “Visual Bookshelf” app: every time a reader puts a book on his or her “Visual Bookshelf” or writes a review, that message goes out to all of his or her Facebook Friends—120 on average. That’s a lot of value for each action taken. And it suggests another kind of answer for publishers and authors to the problem of shrinking book reviews. Neither blogs, GoodReads, or Facebook alone will answer the fill the gap left by disappearing print book review publications. But each represents another strand in the fabric of how readers are making new decisions about what to read next.

New Bowker data on building book audiences through digital media

While book publishing faces its greatest challenges in decades, new Verso Digital initiatives aim to do more than simply gain market share in a declining market. Our goal is to grow readership by reaching out to each book’s interest-group in targeted, measurable ways across multiple digital platforms.

As readers’ attention shifts from print to digital media, the old ways of reaching potential readers no longer work as well as they have in the past. This migration of attention, coupled with declining foot traffic in brick-and-mortar bookstores, makes it imperative that we reach potential book buyers where they are most active and engaged with their subject matter.

The latest data from RR Bowker confirms that this migration has already occurred. For the first time, average hours spent online has recently passed hours spent watching TV. Consumers are increasingly learning about books online.

This shift means that book marketing needs to move from a mass mindset to a niche one. When ads are broadcast across mass channels such as national print newspapers, radio and TV, the ads need to speak as broadly and loudly as possible. But ads can no longer be merely disruptive plays for attention. With micro-targeting now possible across a multitude of devices, advertising should be considered a service rendered to particular, interested readers, not a blanket message aimed at them. That’s why we created Verso Reader Channels–to target a reader pre-disposed toward a particular book’s subject, when and where he or she is interested in learning about it. Doing so not only increases our chances of converting attention to a “buy,” but also increases the chance of the message spreading virally across networks of like-minded readers.