Which online identity?

When publishers build an online presence to target readers, they have to decide which online ‘identity‘ (or identities) they should use.

It’s an issue that confronts publishers more than many other digital marketers as they grapple with the challenges of marketing multiple titles, authors, genres and geographies. The decisions made here can have a far-reaching impact on a publishing business. 

Who’s talking?


A publisher’s online identities (or ‘personas‘) are defined by their choice of website address, Facebook name, etc., and how their individual campaigns or business units fit into this mix. These are complex marketing issues that publishers are running into as they set up direct channels to readers. Their many options will include:

  • Corporate brand — global or by territory
  • Publishing imprints
  • Niches based on genre or subject area
  • Authors, who are usually better known than publishers
  • Books or series
  • A combination of these

When social media is added to the mix, it becomes especially challenging. Social media works best when it closely matches users’ interests and draws them into a community. This makes it easier to attract followers and to keep them.

But creating niches to match reader interests poses challenges for publishers, such as the high cost of building niche audiences and managing multiple online identities.

There isn’t one right answer. It will be an on-going issue as publishers build their own online channels to readers, while finding ways to support their authors and booksellers.

Should publishers move to audience-centric rather than title-centric marketing?

Publishers with broad lists will increasingly find these sorts of marketing issues arising — along with the organizational and investment challenges they raise. Here’s an article by publishing industry commentator Mike Shatzkin who argues that big publishers — those with a broad range of books — should reorganize their marketing around audience segments.

Click the link below to read his argument.

The Shatzkin Files: Rethinking book marketing and its organization in the big houses


Here’s a modest proposal about how marketers at big publishers should be organized.

By audience segment, or, to use my own favored terminology, by vertical.

Marketing demands it and entirely new business opportunities — beyond publishing — can arise from it.

A publisher — even the most general publisher — should figure out which audiences it targets again and again. Some of those are easy and neat and defined by genre, like “romance readers”. Some of them might be defined by demographics and might overlap with genre readers, like “single women under 30″. Some of them might be defined by interests, such as “passionate chefs”.

Each audience segment already has its own web sites, its own apps, its own nomenclature, its own influencers. And, of course, each audience segment wants to know about the books (and other content) that relate to its core interest.

Marketers have always asked about every title: “who is the audience?” Now to optimize their digital marketing efforts, publishers large and small are wanting to know about that audience: “where can I find them?”

Big publishers have always posed their marketing questions in a title-by-title context.

Rick Joyce, the Chief Marketing Officer at Perseus, came to the conclusion by using the social listening tools in the market (like Covercake and Radian 6) that the best approach with them was to use them categorically, rather than title-by-title. He spelled that out to the audience at our Publishers Launch Frankfurt conference last October.

Pete McCarthy of McCarthy Digital made a related point to me when he explained that it became very clear to him at Random House that the more data that he had to work with, the more effectively he could target an audience. So the rich get richer. It was a lot easier for Pete to structure a strong marketing outreach for Dan Brown than for a first novelist. And it is much easier for marketers to build up data around a category of readers than it is around any single title.

But, as far as I can tell, no publisher has (yet) taken the step of moving away from title-centric marketing structure to an audience-centric marketing organization.

It is bound to happen. There will be increasing pressure on the existing structure driven by two related realities: bookstore decline and Internet-based marketing opportunities.

Read the full article here: The Shatzkin Files: Rethinking book marketing and its organization in the big houses  (Link opens in a new window)

Reflective Question
Question icon

Thinking of your own business, which are the possible online identities that you could choose? Which one would you use if you could only pick one?


Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.


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