Posted At: September 18, 2012 3:39 P.M.
by Julia Gardial
Conversations between brand and audience are becoming deeper and more meaningful. In some ways it’s never been easier to be in the public relations field because of the wonderful tools — from QR codes to social media to interactive websites — we have. However, due to the rapid trade of information, sometimes the public needs more than a simple blog post or email blast can provide.
Enter the e-book.
In May 2012, Amazon made the announcement that e-book sales have officially surpassed traditional paper book sales. In the United States, 105 e-books were sold for every 100 paper books, while in Britain the number was higher at 242 to every 100. While sales have been gaining traction for quite some time now, the production of the e-book is still pretty controversial, with arguments both for and against this new method of reading.
The arguments vary for why e-books are becoming so popular. Some say that the sales are propelled mostly by specific genre-oriented readers who are buying “guilty pleasure” books without the fear of judgement. Books like theThe Hunger Games series, which is geared toward younger readers, and the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy are becoming more popular in their digital versions with adults who wish to read without broadcasting what they’re reading about. In fact, 50 Shades of Grey has been cited as increasing Amazon Kindle sales by more than 70 percent in some places.
Others claim that e-books are becoming more popular because they’re easier to buy and access than traditional books, giving the reader the ability to read in virtually any location on their computers, tablets and even smartphones. E-books are also less expensive than their paper-and-ink counterparts, which is a large perk for serial readers. In addition, a single e-reader with virtually unlimited data capacity takes up a lot less space than a shelf full of 100 books.
Heather Green, who works in the Nook and e-book department in the Tuscaloosa, Ala., Barnes and Noble, said that she, too, was hesitant to try e-books, but has grown to love them. She said that many Barnes and Noble clients are reluctant to give up paper books, but digital books have become very popular in the past year. In fact, Green said it’s plausible that in the next 10 years, Barnes and Noble could become a digital storefront, used mostly for Nook customer service and ordering paper books online.
“I love digital books. They’re just convenient. You don’t have to wait in lines or worry about getting to the last copy on the shelf,” she said. “My whole library is in my hands. It’s great when I travel, because I don’t have to pack a whole extra bag of books.” Green also said that creating digital books is easy for publishers in many ways. For instance, they don’t have to worry about stock quantity or shipping costs.
All of these reasons give us an insight into why e-books are becoming so popular. In today’s on-demand, content-driven world, people want what they want, when they want it. With so much relevant content becoming available online, people expect high-quality information and entertainment with a minor monetary or time investment on their part. This expectation can become a useful tool for PR professionals who are willing to meet and exceed their clients’ demands.
In his free e-book, “The New Rules of PR”, David Meerman Scott states that “ . . . your primary audience is no longer just a handful of journalists. Your audience is millions of people with Internet connections and access to search engines and RSS readers.” We no longer need gatekeepers for our information. Chances are, if you supply information, someone out there wants it.
In many ways, it seems writing, editing and publishing an e-book will take too much time and effort, especially when a company is trying to incorporate it within an existing communications plan. Maggie Georgieva, an inbound marketing manager at HubSpot, sees this effort as crucial. HubSpot is an inbound marketing company that has virtually perfected the art of free content. Its offerings of case studies, e-books and presentations are impressive to say the least, and Georgieva believes that this customer-centered philosophy, and the work that comes with it, is crucial to building a brand.
“Giving away information for free enables prospects to get educated about a specific industry and feel more empowered,” Georgieva says. “From a business perspective, it enables organizations to become thought leaders in their spaces and stand out from the competition.”
Any organization can get the jump on its competitors by offering more, especially when it offers more for free. As far as the commitment to e-books, Georgieva encourages brands to look at trends and use plenty of analytics no matter what form of communication is being used.
“Brands should be aware of where people spend their time online, and try to adapt to this new landscape,” she said. “For instance, Pinterest has become interesting to a lot of marketers. As they flock to this new social network, I’d encourage them to think about how they are going to evaluate the success of their work.”
When implemented in a communication plan, e-books can be hugely beneficial in brand communications. InThe New Rules of PR, Scott said, “On the best sites, content does more than just sell product — it directly contributes to an organization’s positive reputation by showing thought-leadership in the marketplace of ideas.”
E-books are a big investment, but the right technology makes it easy for third-party publishers to produce content that they can sell or give away online or on e-readers. Heather Green cautions that there’s a big learning curve when using the new digital technology, but it’s worth it in the end.
“Typos are pretty common in third-party books,” Green said. “Sometimes a customer comes in and the pages in their e-book are blank or the book skips three or four pages. It’s a hassle to fix it.” However, she forsees a large change happening in the next few months, especially as both Nook and Kindle are expected to release new products later this year.
Digital content is more widespread than ever. Using e-books to promote the ideas of your brand is unexpected, but effective. By contributing a higher volume of information to its brand-audience conversation, a company gives the public more to talk about and consider.