Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, January 6, 2014

What Beyonce's New Album Says About Marketing

Unless you live under the Rock of Gibraltar you probably heard that Beyoncé released a new album.

Instead of the usual massive fanfare, with advertising, talk shows, billboards, sandwich boards, carrier pigeons, mimes, and cereal box prizes, Beyoncé's new eponymous album just appeared on iTunes. Her entire advertising campaign for the launch of the album consisted of this Instagram.

Despite retailers such as Target and Amazon throwing a fit because of the iTunes early exclusivity, Beyoncé (the album) has sold 1.3 million copies, making it one of the bestselling albums of 2013 even though it was released on December 12th.

Now, obviously this strategy worked because Beyoncé is Beyoncé. She's already at the top of her game, she has millions of followers, and the unorthodox nature of her release generated a ton of publicity on its own.

Still, there are implications for the traditional book world. It's hard to overstate the amount of money that is spent publicizing books by already-bestselling authors. There are authors who are going to be bestsellers even if they released a copy of the phone book, and yet publishers routinely spend a huge amount of marketing dollars advertising them.

Would that money be better spent on trying to bump lower- or middle-level authors up a rung on the ladder? Should publishers be investing in potential breakouts instead of the sure successes?

You tell me. It's not a simple matter, as the big name authors often pick the publisher that will deliver the biggest marketing, fueling this cycle. But here's hoping some publishers make like Beyoncé and save their marketing money for the authors who need it most.


Bryan Russell said...

Well, I sure wouldn't mind a little more balance, at least. The profits of big books do allow them to take on smaller books, but often overkill is overkill. And too many books that might break out get nothing. I wouldn't mind a little redistribution, though I'm not sure that going all Stalin would really help matters.

E. A. Davis said...

Here are my thoughts...Publishers no longer need to spend money marketing best selling authors. Why? Well, just like Beyonce, best selling authors have the power of social media at their disposal. One post or tweet will spread the news about their upcoming work. However, a new author that isn't known does not have a huge following, if any at all outside of friends and family. These authors need the most help and if the publisher believed in them enough to publish them they should market the work. Publishers lose out in the long run when they choose to put their dollars toward already established authors. It made sense 20 years ago...but not today.

Courtney Milan said...

Marketing is product, price, promotion, placement.

Beyoncé marketed her book, at an obvious cost.

There were two obvious marketing strategies. One was the iTunes exclusivity; the other was the silent release.

On the exclusivity: Beyoncé gave iTunes a one-week exclusive in exchange for having her name all over the front of iTunes. That's not "no marketing." As for the cost... there's a definite cost in not having your album on sale on major venues. That's a decision her team made.

Find me an author who would say that a publisher who got their book on the front page of a vendor's site is not marketing.

As for the silence, if you think that was cost-free, wow. It was likely hugely expensive in both actual dollars and manpower to have something that huge come off without so much as a whisper of anything new. It meant that the people who were doing the grunt work on this were much better paid, and were much higher up in the hierarchy.

Silence-as-strategy only works once.

The iTunes deal (and she didn't just randomly put up an album--the top execs at iTunes were in on it) meant that she was guaranteed to have substantial visibility in the first few days, meaning she was GOING to sell a huge amount.

The silent release meant that EVERYONE would be talking about how she sold a ton of albums without a public notification.

She didn't put her marketing dollars in the usual basket, but there were definitely a lot of marketing dollars going into baskets.

The takeaway from this, I think, is not "don't market" but "the best marketing is innovative." And also, for authors--as always, the best thing a publisher can do for you is get you coop.

Ted Cross said...

Who is this Beyonce you're talking about?

Nathan Bransford said...


Of course there were tons of people in on it and of course she got placement from iTunes because of that exclusivity and everyone was talking about it because of exclusivity.

But in terms of marketing dollars spent, think of what they saved by adopting this strategy. The next person who does it is not going to get the same publicity for doing it this way but are you suggesting that if Beyoncé tries this exact same strategy the next time that the next album would be a flop?

Stephsco said...

This: "She didn't put her marketing dollars in the usual basket, but there were definitely a lot of marketing dollars going into baskets."

The take-away is re-thinking what used to work and what tends to work for what else might work? Romance writer Courtney Milan talked this summer at RWA about ebook pricing strategies and how big name author's pricing can directly effect midlist authors. If say Nora Roberts (or more like, her publisher) can charge $12.99 for ebook, that may be an auto-buy for someone and they pay it. What if the e-book was $6.99 and another up-and-coming author, same genre, same publisher, had their book on sale for $3.99; dual promo might mean that both authors get picked up since the consumer is buying two books for same/lower price, the auto-buy and a new author. She gave examples where this has worked (I think it was Avon who had success playing with ebook prices and promotions with new authors). Obviously I'm simplifying this year, but the point is pricing strategies can help newer authors if the publishers are willing to be flexible and creative.

RC OLeary said...

Two thoughts, this column is even more poignant in light of the fact I read Lady Gaga's record company spent 25 Million to promote her new record and the overall consensus seems to be her album was a bust.

I remember the old marketing saw that only 50% of marketing dollars are worth spending but the problem is trying to figure out which 50% is working and which is not.

One question--do you believe it when people say the money spent on ads in places like NYT Book Review is more for the author than for sales?

thank, NB

GSMarlene said...

Yep, I live under a rock, a heavy metal rock where no Beyoncé (OMG, spell checker knows her name!) is allowed! So I had no idea, but back to the point of this post. Yeah, people who are going to buy Beyoncé will absolutely find out. So little to no loss w/o advertising. If there is a good book by an unknown author and the publisher wants to get the word out, yes, I think they should promote.

RobynBradley said...

Kristine Kathryn Rusch just wrote about this in her Discoverability series. I can't do the post justice by trying to sum it up--it's worth the read and goes at the heart of what you're asking, Nathan. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

"Would that money be better spent on trying to bump lower- or middle-level authors up a rung on the ladder? Should publishers be investing in potential breakouts instead of the sure successes?"

Yes, but they won't, and here's why.

There have been conversations within the industry about how publishers should stop throwing so much marketing money into books by the big-name authors that are already going to sell no matter what, and put more support into their midlists.

The catch is that big-name authors have the clout to get guaranteed marketing into their contracts. The publishers then do the marketing because they have to; the authors (and their agents, I suppose) keep asking for it because they can. (Maybe they'd be crazy not to.) But the lesser-known authors who need it even more don't have the clout to get it.

laurakcowan said...

That's an interesting take on the subject. As an author, I would say I won't sign over the rights to a book unless the publisher is offering me publicity and platform building I can't do on my own, but as a relatively new author discovering how difficult it can be to crack the discoverability problem whether indie or traditional, of course I think the system should invest more in new authors, not only to give them a viable way to enter the industry but so traditional publishers don't continue to erode their own value by only promoting whatever sells for the sake of selling, which negates their value as gatekeepers of content. So, as an author, I will likely build my own brand and then sign with a publisher once they can offer me something more than all the things I can do on my own with some elbow grease, so I will be looking for a big advance to signify this is a project they are going to invest in. Maybe I will perpetuate the problem. But if publishers were to even the playing field and go back to offering authors developmental editing, decent publicity, and so on even as new or mid-list authors, maybe I as an author wouldn't be holding out for Cinderella money in order to feel comfortable selling my book. But with the digital disruption to the industry, this is what the publishers say they can't afford to offer to everyone and stay profitable. True? Or treating authors as badly as they can get away with?

Anonymous said...

I have always wondered the same thing. Why not push smaller authors? But I saw something interesting the other day on a morning news news. A story began with a little boy who loves reading and reviewing books. Because he's so young it seemed interesting to me...until the story continued and it turned out Mom has also written her own children's book and the entire segment was an ad for the Mom's book. It's a sneaky way of doing things, but I'm sure it worked wonders. I'm also sure that unless you're an author or you're in publishing you would never pick up on how sneaky this was.

But I also think that authors with bigger names and bestselling books are having a harder time now because they are in competition with indie authors who also have bestsellers and price their books much lower. And you can promote until the end of time but money is a huge factor nowadays in book buying.

Stoich91 said...

I really like @Courtney's point, though, Nathan. Maybe not 100% fair :) but true all the same. Marketing is an art more than a science, much like people themselves.

Give to the (media) poor from the (media) rich sounds like a good idea. I just wonder if it would work as often as we hope it would.

Not all artists are created equal, and neither are marketing strategies. I don't think her next album would be a flop if "silent released," but then what about the next, and then Justin Timberlake, then Usher, see where this is going.

If this strategy worked un-exhaustively, don't you think publishers would've hit on it by now? It just makes sense - more money to spend on new talent, more new talent, more money!

Unfortunately for Usher, the market consists of us, humans: the caffeine-driven students, harried mothers and 3-job workers who can barley remember to check their email let alone their favorite artists release schedule. You want profit? You want good opening sales? Plaster that baby all over billboards and make us forgetful fans REMEMBER who we love! ;D haha

I concur, in conclusion. Was there limited marketing? Yes. But limited strategy? Probably not.

Sheila Deeth said...

What you say makes really good sense. Big name books really do seem to sell themselves. But convincing the publishers (or big-name authors) they'll sell themselves could be a different matter. And would they really spend the money elsewhere or just rejoice in the savings?

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Nathan: in a word--Yes.
I think your suggestion of where marketing dollars are better spent is spot-on.

And hope to benefit from it some day...:)

Mieke Zamora-Mackay said...

Typically marketing/advertising budgets are based on the total sales figure the company intends to generate. The larger the marketing budget, the larger the total sales figure anticipated.

Those already bestselling author releases supported with large budgets have tremendous (sometimes almost impossible) sales goals.

While a re-balancing of budgets toward smaller authors would be ideal, it's just not the way traditional book marketing is done.

And as we know, everything about traditional publication is, well... traditional.

John Olson said...

No news to THIS author!
dub dub dub dot Tales From The Wild Blue Yonder dot com

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of things happening behind the scenes with book marketing that most readers wouldn't think were happening. This stunt with Beyoncé is a good example of clever marketing. I actually could see this happening as a result of anger where Beyoncé just wanted to flip Amazon the bird and it wound up getting more attention than she ever dreamed.

Peter Dudley said...

In the 1980s, no one got fired for buying IBM. In the 2010s, no one gets fired for marketing Rowling. What you're suggesting takes imagination and guts, two things the publishing industry (at the high end of the wealth spectrum) have not shown much of in recent years.

On the other hand, how do the best-sellers become best-sellers if no publisher invested in marketing them at some point? So it's happening somewhere, but I think you're right that at some point the money becomes better spent on building new best-sellers. Diminishing returns.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I was just talking about this with two author-friends when ALLEGIANT came out - we sat on the Toronto subway, looking at a huge ALLEGIANT poster, and I wondered out loud if the advertising dollars were really necessary, given that that book was the third in an already best-selling trilogy and therefore already had an audience gasping for it, AND it was end-capped everywhere, AND it had front-of-store placement everywhere. Yes, they paid a huge advance and they want to make it back - but, honestly. I think they probably already had by that point. And all those dollars could have been spent to bump up half a dozen other titles on their list in that publishing cycle. It makes no sense to me. I hear publishers saying that they want to bring wonderful stories into the world, and then they go and doom those wonderful stories by spending all their money marketing books that are kind of marketing themselves. It's like they're trying to bury the bulk of their list.

Related Posts with Thumbnails