Something special happened this week, which made me reflect on the art of marketing business books. Penguin Random House the reputed publishing house, celebrated a milestone anniversary – 35 years of their presence in India. To mark this special occasion, it announced a release of an exclusive anniversary edition series of 35 of their most iconic books published since its launch in India in 1987. I was delighted to see that a business book which I have authored, Tata Log, was selected as one of these books.
It is flattering to be listed alongside fabulous authors such as Ruskin Bond, Amitav Ghosh, Ramachandra Guha, Sudha Murthy and Perumal Murugan, and heartening to see a business book make it to this eclectic list. As I looked back at how Tata Log became a sustained bestseller, I pondered about what makes a business book succeed. Here are my observations.
Primacy of product
A business book, like a mobile phone or a pack of coffee, is a product that caters to specific consumer needs. Business books are primarily targeted at people in the corporate world – including young managers and students of business. To appeal meaningfully to this consumer segment, the book has to add tangible value to the reader – it has to inform, inspire or stimulate new thoughts. For instance, business biographies of people like Steve Jobs or JRD Tata can help young managers learn from the lives of iconic leaders whom they greatly admire.
The book should be easily readable, even by young readers. The most successful business books therefore tend to be written in a very simple language with no jargon at all. Many also adopt a storytelling style, which is far more engaging than concepts alone. Also, the book should be of manageable length. A thick book of over 400 pages appears formidable and can put off many readers. A slim volume which can be read during a flight is likely to attract many more young managers as they pass through airport book stalls.
Marketing in digital age
Regardless of how useful the content of the book is, it requires powerful marketing to cut through the clutter. Thousands of books are launched each year, and only a handful make it to the bestseller list. The first challenge is to ensure awareness amongst the target segment, with virtually non-existent marketing budgets. In the earlier days, this would happen through book launch tours and reading-cum-signing events at bookstores. While these conventional methods continue to be important, the battle for awareness has largely shifted today to the digital space.
In particular, for business books, professional social media platforms such as LinkedIn are of paramount importance. India has over 70 million LinkedIn accounts, and so many professionals using this platform are likely to be potential readers of these books. Compare this huge audience with the fact that very few Indian business books sell more than 10,000 copies each. To ensure awareness in this large audience, both publisher and author have to actively speak about the book on the platform.
Reviews and Influencers
Novel ways of talking about the contents of the book — for example, short-form videos, book trailers, quizzes with prizes as giveaways — are important if these posts are to get noticed. Posts that position the book innovatively – for instance, as a gift to your colleague to mark his work anniversary, or as an easy yet informative read for your next long flight – are also good marketing directions to consider.
Today, in so many product categories, consumer reviews are trusted far more than advertisements. This is true for books too. Reader reviews and ratings at online bookstores such as Amazon, as well at book review sites such as goodreads, become the go-to space for checking out a business book before deciding to buy it. In addition, if authors can persuade their readers to post reviews of the book on social media platforms, that can work wonders too.
Publishing houses have to market their books effectively to newspapers with book sections, to ensure that reviews, extracts or engaging interviews with the author are featured. Social media influencers play a key role, because of their large bases of followers. Authors have to actively reach out to influencers who are naturally interested in books, and persuade them to read and review their titles. These are the voices that young India listens to.
The mantra for a business bestseller appears to be meaningful content, backed by powerful digital marketing sharply focused on corporate executives and students of business. May I conclude by asking - what business book will you read next?
Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons. Views are personal.