This week, we’re focusing on Cornell Open, our partnership with National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation to bring classic books from our backlist back to the forefront of discussion through an open access strategy. As such, I’ve been turning my attention to how we market and “sell” things that are free.
In many ways, we’re not giving things away so that people like us and come back to spend money on books that aren’t open access. What we’re doing with open access is providing all the content (of the books in the Cornell Open program) for free.
The “freemium” approach has been around a while: you give something away in order to sell a product later. But open access is different. In many ways, we’re not giving things away so that people like us and come back to spend money on books that aren’t open access. What we’re doing with open access is providing all the content (of the books in the Cornell Open program) for free. There’s not really a secondary level. And yet we need to “sell” these free books so that people see them and access them. We want traffic to the Cornell Open website and we want downloads of the books.
This dilemma – that of selling things that are free – has been on my mind for a while because open access isn’t new and because we’re now in year two of this project with NEH and Mellon. I’ve been toying with questions such as the following:
- Can we (should we) use traditional marketing techniques?
- How are people already discovering open access content?
- Is our metadata robust enough to ensure discoverability?
- How much of our resources do we put into helping people discover these books?
- What’s our metric for success?
I know I don’t have concrete answers for these questions, but that’s where the excitement lays. I never thought I’d be all that keen on marketing something that someone can get for free, but I’ve realized that we are, in effect, able to use this project as experimentation for the future of book marketing. Traditional marketing techniques are effective and useful and help us sell books that have a dollar value to them. But do they work for free books? This project gives us the impetus to really experiment with more current and innovative marketing tactics. For instance, discoverability has been the key thing for some time now. Most people find out about books they end up buying through online searches and browsing. So, good metadata has been crucial for a number of years. However, metadata is a weird thing; it’s important but how much time is actually spent on it? A lot of lip service is paid to it, but I don’t think we invest in robust metadata the way we do in, say, exhibits or advertising. I’m keen on using our new focus on content marketing to see how changing keywords and tags within the metadata affect discoverability and number of downloads. I’d like to see what happens if we change the descriptive copy of these older books. Can we combine our social campaigns with these metadata changes so that we’re using new-keyword-appropriate hashtags?
None of these experiments happen for free despite the books being free. We will have to invest time (primarily) and money to make this happen.
None of these experiments happen for free despite the books being free. We will have to invest time (primarily) and money to make this happen. How much of my team’s time do I spend on these new efforts? Do we even have the information necessary to make the kinds of marketing efforts I’m talking about? I’m guessing we don’t have author questionnaires from the 1980s that include things such as keywords, for example. Old publicity certainly isn’t going to have value at this stage, and new publicity isn’t going to happen because these are old books. Is there any value in paid media? Not likely. So, earned and paid media are out. Shared media? Maybe. And that’s where social comes in, for certain. But owned media is definitely key. The content itself, of course, and the metadata I’ve been going on about above will also be crucial. Just making the overarching decisions on what to use and how much to “spend” is going to be of the utmost importance.
Experiments require analysis, and this is where the Cornell Open marketing focus is going to pay dividends. Analyzing what worked and what didn’t is going to provide us with a lot of data for how to market and sell not just open access content but also paid content.
This week’s concerted effort, plus our further ongoing marketing strategies for these books, will teach us a lot and provide roadmaps for the future. We hope you find value in what we do this week. We hope you discover “new” books you didn’t know about before. We hope you download and read and engage with the Cornell Open books. If you do, we just might learn how to market and sell things have zero cost (if great value), and that might just prove priceless.
Martyn Beeny is marketing director at CUP. He’s pretty fond of free stuff, but just wishes you could make money from selling it! Follow him on Twitter @MartynBeeny.