The Thirty Threshold

We are professional observers--part social scientists, part marketers, part pop-culture voyeurs (frankly, it depends who you ask). And at the moment, we are captivated by Book of Ages:30 and their accompanying blog site "blog of ages". We are captivated not only because the authors of the book have created a multi-platform, grassroots marketing effort that is a bellwether for successful trade publishing in the years to come but also because the authors of Book of Ages:30 have launched a product that is designed around a straightforward, powerful human truth--"the thirteith birthday is perceived to be a liminal point both in ones personal development and in his/her transformation into adulthood". This common perception is laden with emotions, both positive and negative---and therein lies the success of Book Of Ages:30. For often when one has a niche product/service that is fueled by both perception and powerful emotion the cornerstone of a profitable brand is laid. Playing upon the "threshold" theme, Josh applies his BOA:30 filter to the recent news that Google is formulating plans to go public in a blog titled Googillionaires. In the blog, Josh Albertson suggests that the potentially $15 billion windfall to befall Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin is akin to another tech maverick's thirtieth birthday bonanza (we will keep you in suspense, check out Josh's blog). The BOA:30 sheds light on other 30th accomplishments and such as Edvard Munch's The Scream as well as insights into 30th shortcomings:

At 30, Harrison Ford was working as a carpenter, and neither Oprah nor Jane Austen had found fame.
Book Of Ages:30 is a fascinating "measuring stick" for those in or approaching their third decade of life. It also is seemingly a fascinating case study for building a grass roots brand. Time will tell.

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What It Means To Be Thirty

The uber-hip Brooklyn/NYC blog (thanks Jen) has brought a new book to our attention, Book Of Ages 30. The book, which was launched yesterday, is the brainchild of mulitmedia collaborators (and NYC lifestyle bloggers) Joshua Albertson, Lockhart Steele and Jonathan Van Gieson. The first in a series of "landmark birthday" books, "30" has some interesting insights into the lives of American 30-somethings from the "big day" to the decade that leads up the the big four-oh.

This year about four million people in the United States will turn 30. If you’re one of them, the bad news is that you’re older than 42 percent of Americans. You’ve already lost 10 percent of your muscle mass. And, on average, you’re almost $20,000 in debt. But don’t despair. At 30, Harrison Ford was working as a carpenter, and neither Oprah nor Jane Austen had found fame. Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream? Created at 30. And, most heartening, you’re still gettin’ it on—2.24 times a week.
These are but a few of the factoids, demographic stats, quotes, biographical sketches, and sage and not-so-sage observations in Book of Ages 30, an illustrated book that chronicles this landmark birthday and the decade that follows. Featuring everything you ever wanted to know about your 30s—and a few things you probably didn’t—Book of Ages 30 offers a chance to reflect on past accomplishments, look ahead to future successes, and completely freak out —all at the same time.

Check out Book Of Ages 30 and the website both for curiosity's sake and a "sneak peak" at what the future of effective book promotion.

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The Hidden Persuaders of the Publishing World

Slate published an interesting piece a couple of weeks ago about the power a clutch of book industry trade publications—specifically, Publishers Weekly; Kirkus Reviews ; Library Journal and Booklist—have over what books ultimately find their way into the hands of consumers. As the article puts it (somewhat ominously):

You've probably never read these magazines, even if you've seen their names on book jackets. But they're helping determine what you read. Together, they make up the big four of book industry trade journals, aimed at publishing insiders: newspaper and magazine editors, bookstore and library book-buyers, literary agents, and film industry types scanning them for movie rights. Long important as behind-the-scenes power brokers, they became even more powerful in the 1990s, when online booksellers signed deals with them. (Barnes &, like Amazon, has a deal with Publishers Weekly.) Their reviews—300 or so words of plot summary, context, and a quick verdict—influence which books get noticed, bought, and promoted in the media.

The easiest way to think of Publishers Weekly et al is that they’re effectively the reviewers the reviewers you’re likely to read (whether its Entertainment Weekly, the New York Times Book Review, O Magazine, pick your poison) read. Consequently, these industry magazines have a lot of power determining what books ultimately get favorable buzz, and which ones don’t, which in turn affects sales. For example, Slate’s article reports that an unnamed author claimed that O Magazine cancelled a planned feature on her (which would have likely increased sales) after her book received less than glowing advance praise in Kirkus Reviews.

Assuming that Slate is correct about the power these four industry journals wield over the printed word in America (incidentally, shouldn’t somebody alert scolds like Oliver Stone or Jonathan Rosenbaum about the possibility of a vast and overarching conspiracy in the publishing world?) led us to think about some interesting marketing possibilities. First, could it be possible for publishers to market directly to the tastes and whims of individuals reviewing for these publications in the hopes of “influencing the influencers” (e.g. the harder to reach mainstream publications that dictate what we read?). It should be relatively easy to compose a list of these reviewers—consider that Slate reports that reviewers in at least two of these publications (Booklist and Library Journal) are directly credited, while reviewers in another (Kirkus) are credited in the masthead. (Identifying the reviewers that work for the only publication that doesn’t credit reviewers (Publishers Weekly) would probably require some sleuth work, but this would be by no means impossible.) Given these facts, we’d be surprised if some publishers didn’t already court the reviewers for these magazines already: perhaps by asking them for feedback on a book ahead of time, or by inviting them to swank literary parties where the wine and bon mots flow liberally, all in the hopes of currying favor for an author’s or publisher’s next big book. (Although this seems like a fairly cynical practice, it already goes on to some degree throughout publishing and media—this is why film critics get invited to oh-so-fabulous launch parties in Cannes, for example.)

However, we’d argue that the real opportunity for publishers to reach out to the reviewers of these publications and treat them as partners. While anyone can throw a bacchanal to woo writers (if we remember correctly from our respective days in grad school in the humanities, all it takes to impress most writers is a few jugs of cheap wine and some overwrought allusions to the fall of whatever empire you feel most jaded with nowadays), not everybody can work well with writers. There’s a chance for publishers to work with these reviewers through every step of the publishing process—inviting them to key meetings, introducing them to authors, having them act as an informal advisory board and generally, treating them more as human beings and less as naïve hicks who can easily be wowed by fabulous parties and a few minutes of face time with the editor of a publishing house. Put another way, any two-bit publishing firm can identify a reviewer for one of these industry ‘zines and market to them with a sledgehammer; not every firm can turn an external reviewer into a trusted confidante and partner. Consequently, firms that could hypothetically develop partnerships and listen to the “influencers of the influencers” and involve them in their day-to-day activities would have the makings of a pretty powerful—and more importantly, inimitable—competitive advantage on their hands.

One other idea spurred by the Slate article…Slate mentions that although reviewers for each of these journals are usually correct in assessing the response that mainstream customers and editors will have to the books they’re advance reviewing. However, in some cases, the reviewers get it dramatically wrong—here’s a humorous outtake from Slate detailing how Kirkus was way off the mark with one of our favorite books, Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: “It isn’t.” According to Slate:

Though the review allowed that the book “is better than most novel-like objects created by our younger writers,” it nevertheless concluded: “Few readers will be satisfied…for their investment of time and good will.”

Given that we can track reviewers and book sales of each book, it would also be possible for publishers to establish a rating system that tracked how correct each reviewer was, and therefore, how tapped into the zeitgeist they are. Combining this data—sales and reviewer attitude—could provide publishers for a tool that could help them determine which reviewers at which publication to concentrate on most in their efforts to win sales.

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Viral Vida

Vendela Vida's book And Now You Can Go is due to hit book stores this week. Vida is the editor of The Believer magazine. Not only is Vida's book receiving favorable reviews, the way that they are marketing both Vida and her book is masterful.

In the last three days, I have come across Vida and And Now You Can Go twice. First, via Daily Candy, the increasingly influential on-line resource to "hippness", and then this morning, while catching up on Slate. This week Vida is authoring the Diary in the Arts and Life section.

Malcolm Gladwell must be proud. Vida is the perfect example of how authors in the years ahead will be able to circumvent traditional publishing and build legions of loyal readers in an authentic, meaningful manner---inspired by her McSweeney's experience no doubt.

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