Discoverability and Marketing Are Publishing Company Differentiators, Says Perseus CMO

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

Now that the wave of e-book conversion is well underway or done at many publishing companies, publishers are focusing their digital attention on an old problem: marketing and selling books.

In the e-book era, the old ways of marketing and selling books are becoming less effective and new ways are constantly evolving, making a book marketers job exciting, challenging and scary all at once.

In the past year, sales and marketing (read: discoverability and pricing) have become hot-button issues in the publishing world. Perhaps like nobody else in the business, Rick Joyce is at the center of the issue.

Joyce is the chief marketing officer of the Perseus Books Group, a book publisher with eleven imprints, a physical book distributor with 270 clients, and an e-book distributor and marketing platform for 350 clients. Through Perseus, Joyce has his finger on the pulse of the marketing efforts of hundreds of publishers, many with different kinds of operations.

If all that weren’t enough, Joyce is also responsible for the brand image and marketing of Perseus and Constellation, the company’s distribution, digital asset management and sales and marketing platform, and their services to publishers.

Joyce, 49, has been CMO at Perseus since 2006. Prior to Perseus, Joyce was a strategist at consulting firm Accenture for seven years, including time spent as head of media strategy for the Asia Pacific based out of Accenture’s Hong Kong office. Joyce has also spent time as vice president of strategy and marketing at the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, a member-owned music licensing association, and a strategy consultant at Booz Allen, a large consulting firm. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College.

We spoke with Joyce about discoverability, the most innovative marketing publishers are doing right now and what type of marketing just isn’t working anymore for books.


Jeremy Greenfield: For those who aren’t familiar, can you talk about your responsibilities at Perseus and the scope of the company?

Rick Joyce: It’s funny: Chief marketing officer, what does that mean? I’m involved in the company’s digital marketing strategy and efforts for our publishers. All of our publishers have publicists and marketing folks but there’s usually a set of books or product lines for which there’s a need or opportunity to do more than one might otherwise do from an imprint standpoint, so I get involved in those projects.

I’m more heavily involved in our marketing capabilities for publishers, piloting capabilities and meeting with potential vendors and marketing partners.

I also oversee a fair amount of experimentation and piloting, like the JFK 50 Days, app we did with NBC News, or an enhanced e-book version of Roots [also with NBC News]. They came out of the marketing department. We have the willingness and mandate to experiment.


JG: Speaking of willingness and mandate to experiment, you also work with Constellation.

RJ: I’m one of the founders of constellation. A lot of my responsibilities have to do with marketing the service of Constellation. Not only am I responsible for trying to market and position Constellation globally but also the marketing tools within – newsletter builders, micro-site builders.

I’m also involved in significant pitches to new clients and account strategy as well as overall corporate marketing and corporate positioning.

We try to create opportunities and focus on capabilities heavily. It seems to us, especially in the digital space — that big conversion wave — we’ve surfed that wave and the next big waves are international and discovery. We’re focused heavily on that for the company.


JG: I’m glad you brought that up. We should say here that you’re one of the keynote speakers at our upcoming Digital Book World Discoverability and Marketing Conference. Excited? Do you think a conference like this is necessary? Or, why do you think it’s important?

RJ: I do think it’s important.

There is no scarcity of content but a tremendous scarcity of attention [from consumers]. What digital devices have made abundantly easy is to put content into the world. We’re all authors now because everyone’s got a Facebook status to update and a Twitter feed. So there’s an extraordinary explosion of content and communication so it makes it challenging to be found – but if you can be found, it makes it possible for these explosions to happen. Publishers are competing in a very noisy world where it’s not just the media creating noise, but readers themselves are creating a lot of noise.

Now that the product and process are digital, the discovery side of it is really different. Books are more and more often being discovered via social conversation online rather than in a bookstore, or on a talk show or seeing someone reading on a subway – we know you have your Kindle or iPad, but we don’t know what you’re doing.


JG: What you’re saying is why we launched the conference. But I think that these changes – and the fact that they’re largely digital – opens up a lot of opportunity for publishers.

RJ: The business itself being digital changes the nature of discovery. Incredible experimental activity is going on in the space.

You see outside interests come in and starting social reading stuff and new browsing experiences. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a lot of new entrants into the business. This used to feel like a mature business but it’s not anymore. All the people creating new social reading and social sharing apps makes it a much more exciting growth business right now.

If you add up those things and you’re not sitting up and taking notice as a media company of all the new ways people are finding to share, discover and interact with new content, I don’t know what you’re doing.

Come to the Digital Book World Discoverability and Marketing Conference in New York on September 24 and 25. Register before June 15 for an early bird discount!


JG: I think book publishers are “taking notice,” as you say. But just because there are myriad new ways that readers are interacting with and discovering content, does that mean that the old ways are obsolete?

RJ: One of the big things that traditional publishers were really good at was making arguments to gatekeepers that had access to consumers. You still have to do this – to get your author on NPR [National Public Radio], or Colbert [The Colbert Report], and there was, and still is, a fairly limited number of slots and they’re hard to get.

But, there’s also the whole rest of it, not so much getting past gatekeepers, but figuring out how to get all your content into all these new channels that behave differently. The assets that you need, the proper engagers for social conversation are really different and there’s so much of it; so to try to parse it and try to figure out who are the right engagers is very hard for us and the authors.

We’ve got some interesting experiments going on where we’re trying to make our editors more visible to consumers via websites that look more like blogs and less like catalogs.


JG: Like?

RJ: Running Press Cooks, a cooking site from Running Press that was a book-oriented catalog of cookbooks and was purely a resource for the trade and is now turning into something that’s being curated more like a food blog. A lot of publishers are trying to figure out how to create platforms that are more engaging to consumers.

Turning the model to be much more about engaging consumers in the way they like to engage requires some steely nerves from publishers to try not to sell a book to a reader at every occasion. We have to understand that some of what needs to happen here is about setting up a conversation.

That turn from having the lens be, “how can I promote this book” to “how can I join this conversation in a way that might lead to the book” – those are new muscles for a lot of publishers.

What we do here [at Perseus], we try things, and if they work, we share them with the 350 publishers that are our clients – either through sharing data or via a product or service that we add to our platform.

Some of these are experiments now but could be part of our platform down the road.


JG: For instance?

RJ: We’ve been experimenting with social listening platforms. A huge amount of consumers’ social conversation happens on Twitter, Facebook status updates and the comments sections of blogs. Parsing that for relevance and influence is one of the next challenges. We firmly believe that there are consumers out there talking about the subject of our books all the time. If you can find them, you can join an existing conversation.

One incredibly hard thing that publishers try to do is start a conversation. But joining one is more important and more possible.

We’ve spent nearly a year kicking the tires on all the platforms that scrape the conversational Web and there’s a lot of them.

People who are trying to manage this by using Google alerts or TweetDeck are missing the big picture.


JG: Outside of marketing, what are some of the big challenges or opportunities facing publishers right now?

RJ: International opportunity, which I think is huge.

We’ve seen this explosive growth in this country in e-book publishing, but it’s slowed down. On the international side, they’re at the beginning of that cycle.


JG: Back to marketing. Marketing seems to be one of the ways that publishing houses can differentiate themselves in the e-book era. What are some of the most creative publishing houses doing with marketing?

RJ: Good editing, good marketing, good publicity, good sales, these are the things that publishers have long competed on. Nobody owes anyone a living, so that’s why you have to add value.

On the marketing front, what it means to add value is evolving. The folks who are doing it in interesting ways have authors coming back to them for their second and third book.

Sourcebooks is doing some interesting things. Interweave is doing some interesting things. They’re a client of ours. What they’ve realized is that their clients want more than just books; they want supplies and how-tos and they have great e-newsletter and huge open rates.


JG: That reminds me of what DBW-parent F+W Media does. It’s an enthusiast publisher with multiple verticals like design, writing and crafts.

RJ: The folks out in front here on a lot of this are enthusiast media verticals. I tend to think that stuff is brilliant and creates deep relationships with customers and if you’re an author looking at this, you have to say, “do I have a million-person email list with a great open rate or the ability to create how-to videos?” If not, that’s attractive to you.

The general trade houses have some things to learn from this but they have to create their own things. You see publishers creating sites that people have loyalty to, that create content beyond, “hey we have a new book.” If they can create stuff that has ongoing audiences, that will add value.

If those things give you a long list of consumers who behave reliably, that’s a powerful thing to say to an author.

Every publisher has to figure out how close they can get to their audiences. One of the value-adds for publishers is going to be “these are the things that I own or have proprietary access to” rather than writing a check for an ad. The vehicles matter more for authors rather than the ability to write checks for campaigns.


JG: Discoverability. It’s a big, made-up word. What does it mean to you?

RJ: It certainly isn’t one thing. People were looking for a word that wasn’t “marketing” or “publicity” but was broader. Some of it is about proactive efforts after you put out the book. But some of it is about what’s in the book, like metadata, or how what’s in the book links out to other important topics, or the author’s platform and how it’s connected to the marketing efforts.

Marketing sounds outbound, but discoverability implies that you’re doing some things and that readers and bloggers and reviewers are doing things as well.

Discoverability links out to the whole ecosystem. It’s not just pressing a button for outbound marketing.

What I like about it is that there’s systemic thinking people need to have – like, how do we get the various networks or constituents for a story to align and light each other up.


JG: Price is a big issue in sales & marketing. Let’s talk about price.

It’s an incredibly important lever and it’s one that the publisher have to spend a lot of time thinking about – and I’d like to think about everything else. We’re [the marketing department] focused on a whole bunch of other things. The bottom line, the publisher has to think about it very carefully.

Questions of price are marketing decisions but they’re so heavily revenue decisions, so in our shop, they’re definitely the decisions of the publisher to make.


JG: What is the one marketing technique that publishers are using that you think is out of date and not worth it?

RJ: The classic marketing and publicity approaches are still important, they are just slowly waning in effectiveness, so marketers and publicists still have to do most of what they always did, but on top of it, 100 new things. If pressed, I would say I don’t understand full-page newspaper ads, which I still see sometimes.


JG: What’s the most cutting edge thing that almost nobody is doing that you’d recommend?

RJ: This is of course a trick question. Why would I share my cutting edge secrets [laughs]? That said, I think that the marketing strategy that is always the most cutting edge, most powerful  is thinking. When it’s all spamming out campaigns that look like one another and aren’t grounded in the particular qualities and opportunities of the book, I think that’s bad marketing. Ditto, if its chasing some technological or marketing fad.  The thing we are trying to do is a lot of thinking about how consumers find what they want to spend time on, and to try to build organic ways to bridge the gap between them and the book.


JG: What are you reading and on what platform?

RJ: I read on all platforms. Physical books are by my bed. I read on my tablets on planes and I’ve been known to read on my cell phone in cars. I’m omnivorous in that way.

The book I’m reading right now it Capital by John Lanchester. Sort of like a Bonfire of the Vanities but for right now. It was handed to me by Will Atkinson of Faber and Faber as I was leaving the London Book Fair.

It happens physically and digitally, but when you are looking for a great book, you want to talk to someone about it, and if you read something great, you want to share it.

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

Want to hear more from Rick Joyce? Come see him speak at the Digital Book World Discoverability and Marketing Conference in New York on September 24 and 25.

Register before June 15 for an early bird discount!

For more insights from the most interesting and influential personalities in ebooks and digital publishing, check out our ebook, Finding the Future of Digital Book Publishing. Buy it DRM-free from the DBW Store.

2 thoughts on “Discoverability and Marketing Are Publishing Company Differentiators, Says Perseus CMO

  1. Karl Tall

    It seems to me that creating an interesting book/e-book isn’t enough – you have to create an experience that encompasses the wider interests and that should include all relevant and available media from traditional to cutting edge. If you offer more to the consumer than just the finite that appears between the covers, you’ve opened their eyes (and other senses!) to what you offer holistically as a publisher. To do that you have to let go of the “everything must bring in profit” and embrace the reciprocal nature of digital.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *