In the second part of our marketing series, we sat down with publicity guru Evan Munday of famed alternative press, Coach House Books. We picked his marketing brain and gained some insight into ebook promotion, Evan’s history of Nickelback-based marketing, and, naturally, Fifty Shades of Grey.
Jordan Knoll: What are your responsibilities at Coach House? Your title is “Publicist” but it seems you are involved in much of the activity of the press.
Evan Munday: Coach House has a rather small staff and we all end up doing a bit of everything. I tend to keep my hands off all matters editorial, though. Mostly, I carry out the majority of the publicity and marketing activities at Coach House, though our publishing assistant, Heidi Waechtler, now helps with much of that.
In addition to sending review copies, pitching to media, organizing events, designing ads and handling our social media face, I also oversee the ebook list. Leigh Nash, Heidi and I do the conversion in-house, and I ideally make sure they’re available and distributed to all the ebook retailers we work with. Sometimes I make coffee in the morning, too!
JK: How does Coach House define “success” for your marketing campaigns? Do you set out goals beforehand and measure the activity? Or is it more of a case looking at the campaign after the fact to determine if it was successful?
EM: Typically, we’ll have general goals in mind – things like ‘sell more books!’ – but nothing specific in terms of copies sold. Mostly it’s a case of devising a campaign we think will work and measuring the results afterward. If we don’t like those results, we may not emulate that campaign in the future. If we do, we’ll likely try something similar in the future. That said, we’ve tried to recreate the magic of marketing campaigns before and it’s completely bombed. One buy-one-get-one-free ebook sale we had through our site was a huge success. The second time we attempted it, barely anyone participated. It can be very mysterious.
JK:How does your ebook marketing strategy compare to your print marketing strategy?
EM: At Coach House, we tend to market the book and not any particular format. So in that sense, they’re identical. The ads we place, the social media outreach we do, the stories and reviews we pitch to media – that’s for both the print and ebook editions. I will say, however, with no shipping costs involved, our ebook marketing campaigns more often allow for bigger discounts and free sample chapters or anthologies. There’s a lot more ‘free’ happening for our ebooks than there is for our print books.
JK: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in marketing your ebooks?
EM: A big part has been simultaneously releasing our ebooks with the print editions. As a publisher with printing presses on site, it’s often just a week between when we send the final files to press and when we have printed books in hand. We convert the books in-house, so that’s an extremely tight turnaround for a staff of 3 to 4—none of whom have ebook conversion as part of their official job description. Most of the media hits upon the book’s pub date, so it has proven difficult to have our ebooks on e-retailers when the reviews and interviews start happening. We’ve improved, but it’s still an uphill climb.
JK: When you’ve been able to have simultaneous releases for e and print, have you seen the increased media of a book launch reflected in your ebook sales?
EM:We haven’t had a long track record of simultaneous release, but it’s always a boon to ebook sales when the electronic files are for sale the same time the print books are. Sadly, unless a book is nominated for an award or ends up on some best-of list, media attention can be limited to a very short time window. So it’s ideal for ebook sales to have the ebook files available on e-retailers when publicity for the book starts in earnest. If someone prefers to read ebooks and hears about your title, he/she is going to search for it on his/her preferred e-retailer. And if it’s not there, that could be a lost sale. So, yes, ebook sales increase when we simultaneously release the print and electronic editions—provided the book is actually getting some media attention.
“it’s always a boon to ebook sales when the electronic files are for sale the same time the print books are.”
JK: For trade publishers, the pricing of ebooks is a hot topic. With the Agency lawsuit in the US and Amazon’s loss-leading strategy, there is a lot of pressure on publishers to price ebooks lower than the print editions. How does Coach House approach ebook pricing?
EM: We price our ebooks lower than the print books – typically at about two-thirds the price of the trade paperback edition. We understand that ebooks should not cost the same as print books, but we also don’t want to devalue the book or the author’s words.
We also offer ebook editions for free with purchase of the print book. As a publisher who shares a building with a printing house, we have a vested interest in keeping print alive. It’s part of the Coach House charm! So, we offer that as an incentive to buy our (we think) finely designed and produced print editions.
JK: That sort of bundling strategy has been discussed frequently in publishing circles. Some even see it as a way of “saving print”. How has the bundling of e with print books worked for Coach House? Do you see this as a long-term strategy for Coach House?
EM: I see no reason why we’d stop bundling the ebooks and print books. We’ve noticed bigger publishers joining in: ECW beat us to the punch, TOR began offering the same deal a bit more recently.
We haven’t noticed a massive uptake on orders to Coach House. Most people want the book in one format or another. When they order from our site, they get the ebook automatically—so that’s a success. When they buy from a store, the process is a bit more work for the consumer. We sell a lot more books in stores than have people contact us to receive their free ebook edition. But the instances are increasing, so who knows? I think it’s certainly helped our print sales a bit — knowing you can have both the print and ebook for a bit more than the ebook (and, hopefully, appreciating our print quality at Coach House) drives some readers to opt for the printed edition.
JK: Have you used pricing promotions to help drive sales? If so, what’s the reaction been like to these promotions? Have they helped to drive more long-term sales?
EM: We’ve discounted for set time periods, both on major retailers (Kobo, Apple) and on our own site. Reaction has been fairly positive. We try not to discount too heavily, so ebook sales have never been complete pandemonium, but discounting has helped. One of our best months for ebook sales was the first time we did our two-for-one sale on ebooks. Ebook sales remained steady after that point, so I guess it did help long-term sales.
JK: One of pressing issues with ebooks is discoverability, as you can’t rely on serendipitous discovery for your books much at all through e-commerce platforms. What have you been doing to drive discoverability?
EM:We do what we can – choose the most specific BISAC codes, try to include keywords when that’s an option – but really, we try to make people aware of the books first and foremost. Ideally, if you’re hearing about Maidenhead or Mad Hope all over, you can do a quick internet search and find it available on a number of sites.
Something new we’ve done is partner with e-commerce platforms with curated lists to help discoverability (at least, within that site). Most recently, we partnered with Emily Books, a curated e-retailer with monthly book picks. They selected Maidenhead as their September title. We’ve also worked with Enthrill, who curate their retail list.
JK: Digital marketing channels are becoming increasingly important. How have you been using digital marketing to promote Coach House’s books?
EM: I think Coach House has been using digital marketing channels since before ebooks were a thing. I mean, well before I started at Coach House, they were offering ebooks online for free —and most of them are still up on our site … somewhere. And before we had much of an ebook list, we were publicizing and marketing our books online and through our e-newsletters.
These days, we focus on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. We only recently have started doing things with Goodreads. We were reluctant to start on Goodreads, as it seemed such a reader-based world, free of publisher influence and we’ve just jumped into the world of NetGalley. We’re always trying new things, as long as they don’t cost too much money! Many of our readers may only know us through our internet presence, though we try to be just as inviting and friendly IRL.
JK: Have you found a space for Coach House to engage with readers on Goodreads?
EM: We’re really only starting to engage with readers on Goodreads. This October, Heather Birrell’s book Mad Hope, will be discussed by The Next Best Book Club. TNBBC is one of the largest book groups on Goodreads; we met with the organizer at Book Expo America and she really liked the sound of Mad Hope. Each month TNBBC, as a group, reads and discusses a new book, giving away a few copies to group members with the stipulation that if they received a free giveaway copy, they have to participate in the online discussion about that book. So, we have high hopes for Mad Hope on Goodreads.
Along those lines, we also have a giveaway for Milosz by Cordelia Strube planned for later in the year, but we’ve yet to hash out too many of the details yet.
JK: What digital marketing channel have you had the most success with?
EM: Our monthly e-newsletter (or mailbot) is probably our most successful effort, at least in terms of direct online sales. After each mailbot, we always see a jump in online sales. And our website is really the backbone of all our digital marketing efforts. It’s so handy to use, I don’t know what we’d do without it.
But it can be really difficult to tell how other efforts have an effect on bookstore sales and retail channels outside our own stores. Certainly, we seem to have a lot of Twitter followers. And really, if every one of them bought one Coach House book a year, we’d be way better off. Nevertheless, our social media efforts seem to have increased our sales (and our profile) over the years.
“Our books are a little weird, and so are our social media efforts.”
JK: Coach House is known for timely and unique marketing tactics to promote your books. Just recently I read about your “Nickel back” campaign in light of the whole Chavril-engagement. What’s the strategy there? Are you trying to start a conversation that relates back to Coach House?
EM: I was talking with a friend the other day and realized my Nickelback-themed marketing has been an ongoing thing. During university, I worked in an ice cream shop in the summers, and one year (the summer of ‘Hero,’ from the Spider-Man soundtrack) I drew a picture of Chad Kroeger and posted it by the French vanilla. Chad was encouraging customers to try the vanilla in the picture. We actually had a top-secret sale where if a Nickelback song was playing when a customer ordered French vanilla, he or she wouldn’t have to pay for that cone.
But I digress. That was a strategy-less sale. Mostly, we were trying to be funny and get some attention for the press at the same time. Really, we had everything to gain and only five cents to lose from every sale. A number of the things we do – especially spur-of-the-moment sales and various Twitter obsessions – have no calculable value, but we hope it’s what makes us more interesting to follow than some other publishers. No one wants non-stop publicity or questions like ‘What are you reading this weekend?’ all the time. Our books are a little weird, and so are our social media efforts. Ideally someone new reads about this weird ‘Chavril Forever’ Sale and discovers our press, or starts following us for fun and eventually we convert them into die-hard Coach House fans. It could happen!
JK: You had a campaign for Maidenhead that gained some attention. I’m referring to your “Sex Trade-in Sale” where you had readers trade in their copies of Fifty Shades of Grey to get a discount on Maidenhead. That month-long campaign just ended. Was it successful for you?
EM: In one way it was a big success; in another, it was not. The sales of Maidenhead have been really great, and the month we did our Sex Trade-in Sale, sales did increase—both in print and ebook. But not a lot of people actually took us up on the trade-in. We had only four actual trade-ins (all electronic; we didn’t receive a single book) over the course of the month. So, the sale with the publicity it received was just having a general effect on sales of the book. People weren’t participating in the sale, but they were still intrigued by the book and buying it from other outlets. That was fine by us. We didn’t really know what we’d do with all those copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, anyway.
In truth, we never thought we’d get many trade-ins. We went into the sale thinking it would largely be good publicity for the book and remind people what a great book Maidenhead is. The gimmicky sale would help sales overall, but we doubted we’d get many trade-ins. Funnily enough, I noticed O/R Books is doing a very similar trade-in sale for their book Fifty Shades of Louisa May, so maybe ours will be the first of many book trade-in sales.
Thanks to Evan and Coach House Books for agreeing to do this interview. Be sure to check back for more marketing related content from eBOUND soon.