Yearly Archives: 2011

Our #1


Reason #6 in New York magazine’s “Reasons to Love New York” is our #1: “Our Marlboro Man Is a Novelist.”


This is a case study in the right billboard in the right place at the right time. Congratulations to Verso’s media team for sniffing out the opportunity, Verso’s design team for a billboard that stood tall in the Times Square glare,  and Jeffrey Eugenides for writing the novel that inspires us all.


How do you sell a $60 dictionary in an online world?

We are proud to be working with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on their blockbuster marketing campaign to launch the 5th edition of their American Heritage Dictionary. How beautiful, comprehensive, and connected does a print dictionary have to be in this day and age to pay $60 for it? Just walk into a bookstore and pick one up, you’ll see.

We think this edition provides a great example of how to create the kind of print experience readers crave while also providing the connectivity they require. In publishing, as in advertising, you have to know your medium and know your audience.

Here’s a link to the New York Times article about the campaign and Verso’s role in it.



“Surprising and delightful”*

"The Marriage Plot" billboard in Times Square
"The Marriage Plot" Times Square billboard

As an advertising agency, part of our job is to keep our clients up-to-date on late-breaking availabilities, good deals, and what’s newly possible. Sometimes it’s a homepage takeover, sometimes it’s a full page print ad, and sometimes it’s a prominent billboard.

We are big fans of Jeffrey Eugenides’ work and his latest book in particular. So we were thrilled when Farrar, Straus and Giroux gave us the go-ahead for a Times Square billboard for his amazing new novel, “The Marriage Plot.” OK, maybe a little surprised, but FSG has always been good at keeping us on our toes. Our design and production team had a blast working on the creative.

The board has been up for 24 hours and already the notices are coming in:

The Atlantic wire

The Village Voice says it’s “Crazy… and kind of cool.”

*Peter Lattman, New York Times DealBook reporter calls it “Surprising and delightful.”

AdWeek says “FSG goes big.”

Shelf Awareness calls it “Impressive and dramatic.”


Check it out for yourself. And read the book. It really is THAT good.

The Marriage Plot billboard in Times Square
"The Marriage Plot" Times Square billboard



New Adventures in Contextual Marketing (and the Death of the Dancing Cowboy)

The financial collapse of 2008 did this one good deed: it killed the dancing cowboy mortgage ads. The dancing cowboys and their variations seemed to rule the internet in the years before 2008. Their endless loops of rotating .gifs were infuriatingly impossible to avoid, running mercilessly, irrelevantly adjacent to whatever you were trying to read, watch or look at. The makers of the ads couldn’t care less whether they ran on a site devoted to politics, motherhood, or game development. After all, who didn’t need an enormous time-bomb of an adjustable rate mortgage on a house they couldn’t otherwise afford?

There are certainly brands that use blind mass reach effectively. High-volume low-cost reach makes sense for a company like Coca Cola, for example, that not only truly appeals across all demographics and interest levels but also has the budget to market accordingly. Book advertising, however, is a radically different kind of product with a radically different budget. Whether a reader is a fan of Daniel Silva’s thrillers or Suze Orman’s guides to personal finance and empowerment, the decision to buy a book is highly personal and nuanced. Often the greatest indicator of what you want to read next is what you have just read. And that is why we believe in context first marketing.

Context first means serving an ad for a book next to the most relevant news, blog or entertainment content. It means creating an ad for a parenting book within the Parenting magazine iPad app that provides the user with new insights into parenting. Dancing cowboys might get your visual attention, but they work to distract you from what you came to the site looking for in the first place. Context first advertising gives you information relevant to the site you’re on and provides an opportunity to go farther.  Our job is not to stop readers from finding what they want, it’s to help them find more of what they want.

This is not a new philosophy for Verso Advertising. It has governed our media planning and creative development from the day we opened our doors. What’s a book ad in the NYTBR, after all, other than a contextually relevant ad? But while the philosophy isn’t new, the toolkit is. Digitals products are creating proliferating opportunities for contextual marketing—from Verso’s own Reader Channels to integrated sponsored content on mobile apps to rich media opportunities on every device.

One of these new opportunities is a venture that connects social media, engagement advertising, and contextual relevance in interesting and affordable ways: Say Media. Rich media used to be beyond the budgets of many of our publishing clients. Between ad construction and serving, it simply cost too much—even though the content offering and engagement benefits were clear. Say Media, however, builds rich media creative development, social linkage, and premium ad serving into every campaign budget—making campaigns affordable for medium- to high-profile book publishing projects. While some rich media such as full-page takeovers can be intrusive and disruptive to user experience, Say Media ads respect users first: an in-ad countdown banner indicates that the cursor is hovering and about to expand the ad window, and helps users avoid accidental clicks. They sell on a CPE (cost per engagement) model, so they have a material interest in serving the ad only to the most interested audience. If your project has interesting peripheral content available—a quiz, a game, a video, a slideshow of photos—an ad with Say Media can show interested readers the way to your book.

Mobile Ads Outperform Standard Banners

The indefatigable Jose Afonso Furtado pointed out an article on eMarketer today about mobile versus standard Web banners that cited a recent Media Mind study: “MediaMind found that the average CTR on mobile banners on their network was 0.61%. That was more than eight times as high as the CTR for standard online banners.” It’s worth noting that we have seen a similar range of performance in mobile versus Web banner campaigns for books. Does that mean every book should run mobile ads first and Web ads second? Not necessarily.

Because of format limitations, mobile ads work best for books that come with either a big name-brand author (“New from Patricia Cornwell!”) or a concept you can get in under eight words (“Could Hitler’s talking dogs have won the war?”). Mobile is not the platform to tout a host of stellar reviews or introduce a new author whose nuanced prose you’re hoping to develop over time. Mobile ads are also great team players: they perform very effectively as part of a larger campaign where they can reinforce a message that also appears in print, broadcast or online.

Beyond the click through — updated

Two years ago I posted that advertisers need to move beyond the click through.

Things haven’t changed much it seems. MediaPost reported yesterday on new research by ad network and technology provider Collective that suggests that click through behavior does not closely track buyer behavior. Some highlights:

> Online gamers clicked 43% more often than non-gamers. But did they buy more?

> Users on mobile devices click 123% more often than users on laptops and desktops. But happens after the click?

> Here’s where you see the break between CTR and sales: “the highest-performing CTR campaigns examined (top 20%) had a 150% higher CTR but an 8% lower post-impression action rate.”

Of course CTR still matters. But it has to be looked at in conjunction with context, creative, impressions delivered, and sales.


Will Independent Bookstores Seize the Day?

By Jack McKeown and Don Linn

“Borders ended up caught between the variety of the Internet and the intimacy of the independents. Its outlets could never stock as many books as Amazon. Nor could they duplicate the native flavor of the corner bookstores…As paper books become a niche product, niche retailers will be the best place to buy and sell them.” —Edward McClelland, “How Borders Lost its Soul,”, February 19, 2011

Southbury is a town located in western Connecticut, part of a region known as the Central Naugatuck Valley. It is a town with both rural and suburban neighborhoods, and a charming historic district. With its four-largest neighboring towns, it comprises a book market of approximately 175,000 souls whose demographics skew to relatively affluent, highly educated and older, propelled by an influx of Baby Boomer empty-nesters and retirees over the last ten years. Two weeks ago, Southbury lost it sole surviving bookstore—a 22,000 square-foot Borders in Southbury Plaza, one of the two hundred superstores closed throughout the country as a part of the chain’s bankruptcy. The nearest Barnes & Noble is in Danbury, 22 miles away. The nearest independents are in Ridgefield and Washington, 20-to-25 miles distant—too far for a casual shopping trip. Without an enterprising independent stepping in to fill this vacuum, who could blame Southbury’s population for falling into the waiting arms of Amazon as the only viable alternative?

Towns like Southbury represent, in a nutshell, the challenge and opportunity confronting the independent bookselling community in the wake of Borders’ bankruptcy.Towns like Southbury represent, in a nutshell, the challenge and opportunity confronting the independent bookselling community in the wake of Borders’ bankruptcy. Suddenly there will be hundreds of sustainable, niche markets with no bookstore presence—a dramatic “supply gap” of physical bookstores of a scale that has not existed for forty years. A tectonic shift of the bricks-and-mortar retail landscape is upon us, whether we are ready for it or not. Not since the explosion of the mall stores in the 1970s, the chain superstores and big-box retail in the late 1980s, and the disruptive emergence of Amazon in the late 1990s, have we seen change of this magnitude and speed. Independent bookstores are about to face a critical test in the next couple of years, and how they respond to this emerging supply gap will determine not only their long-term future, but possibly the fate of the printed book as well.

The digi-catastrophists predict, now that we have reached 8-10% e-book penetration, that chain bookstores and independents alike are condemned to the same oblivion. That argument ignores a central truth: the chains and independents have evolved to present nearly antithetical shopping experiences. As Edward McClelland notes above, where do you locate the competitive advantage in a 150,000-volume superstore relative to the endless storefront of the internet? Independent bookstores, on the other hand, with their focus on finely curated inventory, hand-selling, and a robust program of local events and community outreach, offer a shopping experience that dramatically differentiates them from their chain competition. The independents could be well positioned to move into niche markets abandoned by the chains, while simultaneously upping their game on the Internet with programs such as Google eBooks and the American Bookseller Association’s IndieCommerce web-hosting engine.

What will it take for independent bookstores to seize the opportunity? Continue reading

Neighborhood Bookstore Development Bank

Back in November 2009, Jack McKeown published an idea in Shelf Awareness that he thought could make a big difference in making independent bookstores a viable business and a vital part of communities around the country.

In the wake of Borders’ bankruptcy, the idea takes on new life. Now, Don Linn and Jack McKeown expand on the opportunities for indie booksellers in an article in the March 7, 2011 Publishers Lunch (registration required).

Here is the sketch of the original proposal:


The Neighborhood Bookstore Development Bank (NBDB)

  • Inspired by the Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI), a successful seven-year-old program to help finance new independent, neighborhood groceries in five states, and the National Infrastructure Bank proposed by Felix Rohatyn and Everett Ehrlich in 2008.
  • Structured as private bank to assemble a portfolio of bookstore investments.
  • NBDB Commission of experts operates at arm’s-length to evaluate business plans and approve loans.
  • American Booksellers Association (ABA) contributes mission charter and board memberships, assists in preparation of business plans through education programs.
  • Core mission:
  1. capital improvements and expansion of existing stores
  2. conversion from rental to ownership of storefronts
  3. create new bookstores in under-served markets
  4. convert historic buildings to adaptive reuse as bookstores
  5. upgrade systems, websites and e-commerce initiatives
  6. finance print-on-demand centers (e.g. Espresso Book)
  7. 60/40 balance between new / existing store development


  • Capitalized through initial round of paid-in equity and leveraged at conservative 3:1 ratio–$2.5 million in equity yields $10 million in loan-able funds.
  • Pool of investors could include ABA, national wholesalers (Ingram, B&T) and investment arms of publishing conglomerates.
  • Investor objectives are annual dividends and long-term appreciation, while supporting growth of key customer segment.
  • Capital would be callable beyond seed round with aim of $10 million: $40 million by year three.
  • Government (including Small Business Administration) involvement though grants or guarantees.

2011 Survey Links

We are grateful to Digital Book World for allowing us to present the latest survey results at their 2011 conference. Some of the results were more than surprising and the news was picked up throughout the industry and around the world.

Click here to read Publishers Weekly on what the results say about the role of libraries in discovery of both print and ebooks.

Click here to read Library Journal on our survey’s implications for “the ebook lending gap.”

Click here to read Shelf Awareness on our presentation at Wi6 and the “Hybrid E- and Print-Book Market.” …And here to read Shelf Awareness reporting on how Verso’s survey complemented other research presented at DBW by Bowker and iModerate. …A few days later Shelf Awareness reported again on the hybrid market, going deeper into the implications of the survey.

Click here to read Bookselling This Week on the common themes that emerged from all the surveys presented at DBW.

And during his weekly #pubQT chat on Twitter, @RonHogan mentioned some of the results:

New Verso Reader Survey

In partnership with Digital Book World, Verso Digital has run a new survey of reader behavior on our network (with huge thanks, again, for the work of Burst Media on all these surveys). The results will be presented at next week’s Digital Book World Conference. But already word is getting out there about some of our findings:

Shelf Awareness notes that the survey suggests good news for independent booksellers. Not only is it true that “E-reader owners are buying nearly as many print books as e-books,” but also that “81.7% of all e-reader owners said that if e-books are priced competitively, they will buy them from indies.”

Publishers Weekly picks up on one of the new questions in this year’s survey, revealing that “the library remains an important source of books for readers, with 45% saying they borrow books from libraries, the largest single channel for getting a book.”

The Bookseller also highlighted the 81.7% figure, headlining their post “Consumers ready to buy e-books from indies.”

On his weekly Twitter conversation, #pubQT, Ron Hogan posted: “Interesting bit from the new Verso/DBW survey: Consumers SLIGHTLY more likely to say they buy books from indies.” Then followed up with, “However, WOMEN (who drive the book market) are 7% more likely to prefer retail chains to their local indie bookseller.”

We look forward to presenting the information in full next week, and discussing implications with clients, readers and everybody in the publishing community in the coming weeks.