Giveaways: Books, Bags and Balloons at BEA

As you may know if you follow this blog, some of us were at BEA last week. Lori covered her highest level takeaways here.  Our panel on Wednesday was standing room only, and we had some great participation and discussion afterwards. Yay us!

That said, the main exhibit floor was a truly staggering and awesome temple to all things bookish. Especially print books.

Books – This was my first BEA. I had been told about the huge number of books being given away, and I *thought* I was prepared for the scope of it all. I was wrong. I was in no way shape or form prepared for the scope of it all. There are people, not just a few mind you but legions of them, who bring suitcases to the show in order to haul away all the books. The first day, I naively thought that all these people had just gotten in to town, and had to “coat check” their suitcase because they didn’t check in yet. Nope. There is a corral for suitcases, and they are full of books. I brought home exactly two books, myself. Why? Well, I am truly an ebook convert. I only have print books of those authors/titles I covet for sentimental collector type reasons. They are art, or keepsakes. Which two books did I take the time to get? Funnily enough, “Wool” by Hugh Howey and “Oliver’s Hunger” by Tina Folsom. This is only funny if you know that these are both indie authors, and were part of a group of six best-selling independent authors who banded together to get a booth at BEA (you can read about them here in Publisher’s Weekly). I also took home an autographed postcard from Guy Kawasaki who did a signing in’s booth for his ebook “APE: Author Publisher Entrepreneur” (as an entrepreneur, meeting him was a super-geek-out moment for me). So, essentially, I went to the largest traditional publishing event in the world, and came home with self-published books. I am not sure what that says about me, but what I think it says about the industry is that it no longer matters who publishes your work, as long as the work is good.

Bags – As luck would have it, many publishers also gave away bags to carry all those books in. The only one of those that I took was too eye-catching to pass up. It says “sex” all over it, and was from the erotica imprint Ellora’s Cave. Again, not sure what that says about me, but I think what it says about them is that they are smart marketers who know sex sells. They also had their cover-models in the booth for the fans to take pictures with: their cover-models being very muscular, hunky men.

Balloons – Yes, you read that correctly. The other category of giveaway I saw I have put into the “totally weird and memorable” category, but not memorable for the brand it promotes. For example, these dog balloons (thanks to Lori for modeling them). I saw them absolutely everywhere. I have no idea what they are promoting, although I hope for their sake it is some sort of children’s book or they are even farther off the mark than one would hope. I saw everything from necklaces, to pen holders and could not for the life of me tell you how they were relevant. photo (9)

So, what can we book marketers learn from all this? Maybe, that giving stuff away sells books? Well, in point of fact, very little was actually for sale at BEA. Or perhaps, that giving stuff away builds brand awareness? In some cases, it does. I don’t think I will be forgetting the sex bag anytime soon, and it is clear the publisher’s brand is cemented in my brain. On the other hand, I couldn’t name a single one of their titles or authors. In other words, book marketing fail (from a pure readership perspective).

I think that giveaway’s done in the right context, at the right time can help build brand awareness. I highly recommend a good free ebook campaign, for example. I think in other cases, it just amounts to a lot of things to haul home in a suitcase. And perhaps some humorous photos to put up on Twitter. In truth, I think most of BEA was still homage to the traditional print book days of glory. I will be very curious to see how it evolves in the next few years.


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