My sister kindly gave me Becoming by Michelle Obama as a Christmas present, and I finished reading it on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Unsurprisingly, it really got me thinking…
Why do books matter?
My sister kindly gave me Becoming by Michelle Obama as a Christmas present, and I finished reading it on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Unsurprisingly, it really got me thinking…
Why do books matter?
This year’s meeting was in Chicago, but we were spared the worst of the winds (and denied the pleasures of daylight) in the Book Exhibit, located in the subterranean level of the Hilton Hotel. Had I been wiser about creating some personal time, I’d have taken a break to walk the fabulous waterfront, envy of North American cities everywhere; to visit local museums; to practice the fine art of being a flanneur for an afternoon.
That said, there were memorable moments of site-seeing. An author took me to the incredible landmark deli, Manny’s, for breakfast, where we shared smoked meat (which, at that hour of the morning, had an effect akin to caffeine) and talked about modern Japanese history. Another colleague, Eric Zuelow, editor of our newly launched series, The Histories & Cultures of Tourism, took me for dinner at a world-class Spanish tapas bar, Café Iberico, where we enjoyed one marvelous garlicky dish after another. Between bites, we discussed upcoming author meetings and how best to position Cornell University Press, and our series, with respect to their work.
I cemented existing author relations in the most enjoyable way. Now that the anxieties of peer review were a distant memory, the back-and-forth of committee approvals and revisions were no more, and actual publication dates were assigned for books, we could partake in civilized drinks in a too-loud hotel lobby to reminisce about the process and strategize about promotion, or to discuss future projects. One of my authors, Jay Geller, did a “Live at the Event” podcast with our Marketing and Sales Director Martyn Beeny, about his forthcoming book, The Scholems, and then we had a Mexican dinner, where I found out about his next research question. (I was so impressed that he truly had just the question, not even the suggestion of an answer.) At moments like these, this editor’s saturated mind found room she did not even know existed.
I had hourly meetings with prospective authors. Conversations encompassed everything from the essentials of thesis revision, to the way in the evaluation process works, to the key features distinguishing Cornell University Press as a publisher. Every now and then, I would excuse myself from the meeting to sell books – highly rewarding to get the fruits of our collective labor into customers’ hands – but I heard about many fascinating potential manuscripts.
I also took time to be, à la Jonathan Lethem, a feral booth detective (getting a sense of the shape of other publishers’ current lists, seeing books I would love to have acquired, taking note of interesting cover designs, discovering newly launched book series), and to speak to those colleagues at other presses. We are living in interesting times, as the old expression goes, and it’s informative to get a sense of how others are navigating them.
I got back to the office and committed to kale shakes, low carbs, and a healthy dose of fiction. I am now renewed for the next conference!
Emily Andrew is a senior editor, acquiring manuscripts in the fields of European History, military history, Asian history, and tourism studies. Next time in Chicago, she plans to visit The Green Mill, a staple of the city’s live jazz scene, which has been slinging drinks since before Prohibition.
A few weeks ago our team got an email from the Marketing Director that read: “Mahinder (our Editor in Chief) just sold a book! In Sage House. To a real customer. Fun.” A couple lines later in the same email, we found out that we were having a pop-up bookstore right here at Cornell University Press. The ball was rolling.
So as a result of this random but wonderful happening of selling a book in-house, on November 5th at 10:00am and for one week only, our doors will be open, our bookshelves will be filled, and Ithacans will march through the grand, old entrance to get their wishlist titles from our very first pop-up store.
There’s not much more to it. Walk in, choose your next reads, pay cash, check or credit card, and carry your books home. Or as our Exhibits Coordinator David put it: “Cash, credit, check, and carry!” Paperbacks will be $10, hardcovers will be $15. Taxes included. It’s a one one-time deal to make knowledge more accessible to professors, students, and all book lovers in the community. Plus, the chance to wander about Cornell University Press, and experience the magic of publishing books in the beautiful Sage House mansion.
I was not supposed to write this blog post. But the person that volunteered to do it is busy putting everything together for next week, so I stepped in. Looking for inspiration on what to write, I stumbled upon an article that said that “… pop-up retail tickles the parts of one’s brain that likes new things”. I instantly understood what had happened. At #CornellPress, we just love new ideas. And the opportunity to bring our customers face to face with the books we love, in our own backyard, and in such a spontaneous format, sold it for us.
The invitation is up: This November 5th through November 9th, stop by Sage House on 118 Sage Place to take part in The One-Week Pop-Up Bookstore, and get the books you want.
In the meantime, we’ll be busy preparing for it: part of our staff is being trained in the world of sales and retail, flyers are being distributed all over town, and books are piling up downstairs, growing our pop-up inventory. And as everybody’s doing their bits and pieces, I am curious to see what excitement, feedback and results our first and one time only pop-up bookstore will bring.
About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. Her birthday is November 9th, so if you happen to stop by the pop-up bookstore that Friday, make sure to give her your best wishes!
Pay What You Want is over. Done and dusted. But it was great. We were able to bring customers together with their wish-list books at a price they could afford and continue to spread knowledge far and wide at the same time. And this month, we are doing something different.
Say What You Want is the name we have chosen for our new marketing campaign. The goal: to get to know our customers better, understand their needs and preferences and prepare to better cater to them in the future; to help professors in their mission to motivate and support students; and last but not least, to make sure that our authors’ experience with Cornell University Press as their publisher is one they are delighted with.
How it works: we have designed three different surveys,
How to participate: Click on the corresponding link above and submit your responses, follow @CornellPress on Twitter and Facebook, OR visit our website and subscribe to our mailing list! The questions are short and simple, with a majority in multiple-choice format that reflect how much we value everybody’s time.
What’s in it for you: as a thank you present, you’ll get a 50 percent off discount code that can be used in our website to purchase any of our books. And here’s the icing on the cake: every participant will also be entered in a raffle for a chance to win $250 in #CornellPress titles of their choice!
I can’t wait to dig into the results and find out about the latest trends in reading and our customers’ preferences when it comes to books. What formats do they prefer? Do they listen to audiobooks while they commute, or maybe while doing laundry? How important is a title? And when it comes to professors, what are their main concerns regarding course adoption? How can we provide suitable materials for their students? Are our authors content with the way we are doing things at Cornell University Press? How can we improve?
In the competitive, forever evolving world of publishing, it is our belief that we have to be willing to take the next step and be flexible enough so that we can adapt to new environments, our consumers’ lifestyles, striving to improve our offer in order to meet their expectations and desires. Granted, surveys may not be the most ground-breaking and innovative marketing tool, but they have proved to be reliable, efficient, and if implemented successfully, of great use.
About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She will take any survey as long as the reward is tempting enough and would love to take part in the #SWYW promotion!
Anyone who has heard me speak about it or read anything I’ve written on the topic knows I’m a big proponent of the benefits of print-on-demand (POD) technology for university presses. Even so, when I received an email recently from a gentleman at HP I was quite surprised. He wanted to let me know he’d seen a video of me speaking about the advantages of POD and wondered if I would mind having a phone call with him to discuss in more depth.
What takes place at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday is the result of that call. If you stop by our Cornell University Press booth # 624 you’ll be able to see it for yourself and take part in the one and only CUP Printing Challenge sponsored by HP!
During my call with the Man from HP (I feel as though it needs caps; it’s seems so James Bond somehow), we started discussing the legendary “Pepsi Challenge,” a marketing promotion that allowed the brand to grab a significant market share away from its main competitor Coke. If you ever took it I bet you’ll instantly know what I’m referring to. Back in the 80s (or maybe it was earlier), Pepsi devised a worldwide marketing campaign in which people would be asked to blind taste a glass of Pepsi and a glass of Coca Cola and pick their favorite. The taster didn’t know which glass was which. As a result of the experiment, Pepsi announced with great fanfare that more than 50 percent of the participants preferred their sweeter taste and moreover, discovered that Coke was launching a new formula, in an attempt to resemble theirs. Pepsi USA declared that the “Cola-Wars” were over and gave its employees the day off. It was a festive day for the company. Even now, the “Pepsi Challenge” remains one of the most memorable marketing campaigns in history, and a great example of how consumer perception, and smart marketing, can tilt the scale in any way.
So, going back to what concerns us, the Man from HP and I started musing about something similar for offset and POD printing in the publishing world. It was my contention that most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the traditional and the newer methods of printing a book, and that like the “Pepsi Challenge,” perception was one of the factors inhibiting the university press world from making a more profound shift.
The Man from HP agreed that we should try it, and so we devised the Printing Challenge.
We’re unveiling what it’s all about this weekend, at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Do you think you’ll be able to tell the difference? Do you think one way is better than the other? And do you even care? If any of this sounds intriguing to you, come on by. You’ll get a sample of two books to look at and you’ll be asked a few questions. And just for taking the challenge, we’ll give you 50 percent off your next CUP book, together with some special @HP giveaways!
Quite frankly, I’m fascinated to see the results.
More on the “Pepsi Challenge” and experience marketing, here:
About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director of Cornell University Press. He prefers Coca Cola.
Last summer, Gerri Jones called to tell me that Cornell Professor at Large John Cleese would be coming to Ithaca in September for a week. She told me that she had scheduled me for a public talk with Cleese on September 11th at Bailey Hall that would become the last chapter of the book we were working on together.
Since joining this amazing Press in 2015, moments like this seemed to occur with some regularity. I attended a poetry workshop at Olin Library café with a former leader of the SDS at Cornell, a Nobel Laureate and an A.R. Ammons biographer. Today, I am surrounded by correspondence rejecting Vladimir Nabokov’s novel in verse and a ledger that holds the 1939 pencil-written royalty entries for the publication of The Nature of the Chemical Bond. I am also keenly aware at times of Cornell founder Henry Sage and his wife Susan who initially occupied the mansion where I work. Gerri Jones fit right in as part of an emerging entourage.
A small family of deer mingled outside my window looking in my direction as if waiting for an answer. Surely someone else would want the opportunity to have this conversation. Gerri confirmed that she had cleared it with the Provost’s office, and that the Provost would be introducing us both. I still didn’t believe it was going to happen.
More than one year after that call and the event that formed the final chapter of Professor at Large: The Cornell Years, Gerri Jones passed away on August 10th, 2018. She was 68. She died from an infection in the hospital while being treated for leukemia.
This mystical and extraordinary woman who first alighted upon the second-floor landing of the Sage House during a folk concert never got to see her book get published. It was Gerri who brought one of the world’s most impressive and hilarious minds to Cornell over a span of seventeen years.
“Start thinking about a plan for the conversation,” she instructed me.
As it always was with Gerri, I knew what she meant. Avoid the cliched version of the Professor. Don’t spend a lot of time on Python—which I already knew anyway. If my words didn’t energize Gerri—she became bored and disinterested. She’d make a face. You had to elevate your game to be on the field with her. Those words reverberated in the weeks after the call. I dove into the Cleese canon of books, movies, and television shows. His mind came first. I read the manuscript of lectures and talks over and over.
While studying the Minister of Silly Walks, I recalled Gerri’s return to Sage House after the folk concert wearing knee-length boots and John Lennon shades. She carried a white shopping bag of Cleese talks and lectures on CDs. She told us about the never before published lecture entitled “The Sermon at Sage Chapel” that included a passage about “The Psychopaths for Christ.”
I received word of her passing and attended her funeral. She was supposed to be in remission now.
Through her friends, I came to discover that this whole episode was another glorious chapter in the amazing life of Gerri Jones. She could tilt the universe in any direction. She brought the Dalai Lama to Ithaca twice as the house mother to the Tibetan monks. She carried Kurt Cobain’s ashes back to Courtney Love after the monks had prepared them. She had even used one set as a door stop. She broke Reagan’s blockade of Nicaragua. She was the pride of Central Islip High on Long Island. To everyone there, she was simply “Ger.”
She loved Mardi Gras, dogs and Professor Cleese fiercely. They trusted each other and their chemistry was telepathic. She engineered a schedule that both challenged and protected him and left him with enough space to be creative. “I can’t read him,” he told Gerri during our second meeting after trying to discern the meaning of my facial expression. I can tell you that in that moment I felt absolute joy. My preparation for the talk had been rigorous and thorough. Professor Cleese had been talking about the brain and I leaned back in my chair and smiled. Yes, I had a little secret. I had known exactly what he was going to say before the words came out but I didn’t want to tell him that in the aftermath. Getting to know John Cleese is like learning how to play guitar. The chord structures are accessible, but they merely serve as a launch pad into an endless galaxy of improvisation.
I was ready for the public conversation and had enough confidence in his presence to suggest how the show was going to begin. After nearly falling off the chair with laughter, he agreed. Until now, Gerri was the only one I told this to in the hallway after we left Cleese that day. She and I have other secrets related to the book. Those we will keep. She swore me to it.
“We make a good team, don’t we?” She pinched my arm.
About the author of this blog post: Dean Smith is the Director of Cornell University Press.
The woes of MoviePass recently made me reflect on some ideas we’ve been toying with to market and sell even more books. Loyalty programs, subscription models, premium customer tiers, and so on, have all been on our minds in the last few weeks here at CUP. Most of this came around because of our 150th anniversary next year, but when I started reading about MoviePass, it just came into focus even more.
This blog post, and the ongoing series that will follow, is about looking at non-book-world things in business, marketing, sales, pop culture, and anything else really, and seeing how it might tie into the business of marketing and selling scholarly books.
MoviePass, of course, took its business model from other monthly subscription media services like Scribd, that charge a small fee for which the customers get, in return, access to large volumes of media. The model works because many people sign up, pay the monthly fee, but then don’t use the service all that much. It’s like the gym. The most successful startups using the model have mostly focused on visual media (TV, movies, streaming services), but even books have received the treatment, and not just from Amazon. And though I’m not convinced that the “Netflix” model works for books; the latter is an inherently different kind of media, the 700,000 subscribers Scribd has might disagree. But I am intrigued by what possibilities could exist for a subscription model for a unique publisher.
What can I offer my customers, that will entice them to pay a monthly fee, in exchange for becoming a “member” or a premium customer? What incentives would be needed to earn their loyalty over the long term? Does the “insider” content of early ESPN initiatives work? Do they need extra-special (read, bigger) discounts on their purchases? If I offer them a rewards program so that they get a free book after every fifth purchase, will that be enough to make them buy more books? Is free shipping all it takes? Of course, none of these standard marketing and sales concepts are new. So, how can we tweak them so that what we offer is different and powerful and exciting and makes the customer, want to buy and read all our books? Is Cadillac’s exclusive treatment the way to go?! (“This version of our new book is only available in New York!”)
As we build our premium-loyalty-exclusive-subscription-reward model for the 150th Cornell University Press anniversary, the 1869 Club (work it out!) will be a hybrid. Different aspects from the most successful of the existing models will be included. Different tiers might exist. Different options for discerning customers will be featured on the menu. And one model isn’t going to work. We just don’t have the B2C base needed to sustain it. We don’t have enough new content (or existing content on the back list) to hold enough customers. But our PLEaSeR model might just have enough triggers to create and engender long-term commitments from students, scholars, and others to make it work.
The planning is underway, and I literally just came up with PLESR model (I’m pretty pleased so I hope it’s original), but as this new series of Book Marketing from the Real World continues, we’ll reveal more. (I’m not even hiding this behind an “insider” model. Although, I guess that might just change!)
About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is the marketing and sales director at Cornell University Press. Follow him on Twitter @MartynBeeny. His blogs are always Premium content. He appreciates your Loyalty in always coming back for more. His posts are Exclusive to this blog. You can Subscribe if you like. And the Reward for reading all the way to the end of this bio is that it ends.
The World Cup has kicked off in Russia today and at Cornell University Press we are playing along! To make the best sporting event even better, we’ve created our own Book #WorldCUP bracket, each country who made it to Russia represented by a book of our choice.
As the countries progress through (or are eliminated from) the World Cup, their paired books will, too, until we have a winner.
Each of our selected thirty-two books are discounted 10 percent on our website starting June 20. As each team advances on to the next stage, its corresponding book will earn a better discount. Books making it to the round of sixteen will be 20 percent off. Reach the quarter finals and save 30 percent. Forty percent off the semi-finalists, and fifty percent off the two books that make it to the final on July 15th. And because we love the World Cup so much (well Martyn and I do), we’ll give you 75 percent off the winning book to celebrate!
So, follow along with our Book World Cup bracket, and see which books win you a better discount:
GROUP A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uruguay
GROUP B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran
GROUP C: France, Australia, Peru, Denmark
GROUP D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, Nigeria
GROUP E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
GROUP F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden, S. Korea
GROUP G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia, England
GROUP H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia, Japan
About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is obsessed with the World Cup and is convinced that Uruguay, her country of origin, will win the tournament. She is looking forward to getting her copy of Informal Workers and Collective Action with a 75 percent discount.
I attended BookExpo in NYC, last Thursday, for the first time. I had no idea of what to expect, so I’m sharing here a recap of everything I took (and didn’t take) from BookExpo 2018:
The variety. People and books everywhere, I felt like Alice in Book Wonderland. Sometimes shrinking within the crowd, sometimes enlarging by book displays, only to find myself chasing The White Rabbit, always late for the next talk that I wanted to attend. What a fascinating conglomeration of publishers, titles, events, and everything that is new in the publishing world!
The networking. Whether in booths or in the long lines for book signings, the atmosphere was electric. I was delighted to talk to other colleagues with different interests and from the most varied backgrounds. The result: I walked out of BookExpo with fresh insights, new marketing tools provided by the speakers from Ingram, and more importantly, a handful of business cards with the contact information of people with whom I will collaborate in the future.
The University Press world. I spent my afternoon visiting the other university presses exhibiting at BookExpo. I met with fellow marketers and exhibitors, and we chatted about catalogue design, the most cost-effective merchandising for publishers, new releases, and last but not least, how to better promote our books on our social media platforms.
The food. More excited than the Hatter at the Mad Tea Party—and forgetting about that article with tips for first time attendees—I ate at the Javits Center’s food court. It had a surprisingly wide array of options, and even a vegetarian selection. Plus, I met a wonderful lady in line and we shared our lunch, talking about the importance of encouraging children to read from a very early age. Priceless.
The giveaways & galleys. My Queen of Hearts, both antagonist and favorite character. Even though I gathered some books and souvenirs, I felt a bit underwhelmed by the few giveaways available at the event. On the bright side, I found everyone at their booths to be very animated, always handing out a catalogue or business card when they didn’t have a galley to offer.
The maze. The King of Hearts. Even though by walking in circles I found exhibits that were not in my loop, I found the layout of the event to be a bit confusing. I spent a fair amount of time looking for the Midtown stage, with no BookExpo volunteers in sight to ask for directions, and a small map not suitable for a short-sighted person like me.
The wandering about. Finally, I just took the time to wander about. During this time, I wrote on the “What is the book that changed your life?” wall, entered a contest to win a book basket, wheeled my little bag around until I got a few children’s titles for my son, and even met a translator that recommended some books in Spanish that I will read in the near future.
All in all, I found BookExpo to be a success. I appreciate the contagious energy, the excitement, and the friendliness that transpired in that place. It reminded me of the magic worlds that open up with every page we read, and the fact that behind every book that is published, there is a story, an author, and a team of dedicated people who are working hard to bring it to life.
About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is grateful to have attended BookExpo 2018 and more than anything, to the people at Sleeping Bear Press who gave her free cake for dessert!
20,000 – number of impressions of first PWYW tweet
12,000 – number of reads of blog posts about PWYW sale
4,700 – number of books sold on PWYW day
1,500 – number of offers made on PWYW day
1,000 – number of views of PWYW mini movie
150 – number of website visitors every minute during PWYW
20 – number of hours team worked on the sale
10 – number of website visitors every minute when it’s not PWYW day
3 – number of pizzas eaten by marketing team
2 – number of videos made for PWYW by marketing team
1 – number of Inside Higher Ed articles written about PWYW sale
The dust has settled on PWYW Day so it’s time to take you through the most successful marketing campaign in CUP history.
When I first came up with the basic concept for the sale in February I thought it best to run the idea past our non-marketing colleagues to see what they thought. I didn’t want to run into resistance to the idea or miss something important regarding what was an extremely unusual marketing campaign for a university press. Overall, I received a lukewarm response. Some people raised concerns about logistics, some questioned the message it might send to customers and authors, some thought it gimmicky. I shelved the idea and turned our attention to a more typical end-of-(fiscal) year sale.
But the concept lingered in my mind. When the marketing team went through a strategic planning exercise last year, we created our own vision statement designed to push us to be the best possible marketers we can be. We focused on the words, pioneering and innovative. The pay-what-you-want sale idea seemed exactly that. We chatted again, as a team, and decided to use another of our deeply held mantras: trying and failing is not a bad thing. The PWYW sale was on.
Because of the slight delay between original concept and deciding to run with it, we had to push the sale through on a short deadline. All our scholars and academics shut down their computers and flee for vacations or sabbaticals in the summer, after all. Arbitrarily, we chose May 15th.
In the planning phase, I kept repeating to my team that because no other university press had done this before, we could not anticipate everything. We could lay out a solid foundation and project as best we could what might happen, but we could not foresee every eventuality, every odd email request, the reactions of the media, customers, our customer service team, and everyone else. We could though, focus on the promotional campaign. How would we get word out? Drip. Drip. Drip. The tease. A tweet, a video, progressively more detailed emails, more social.
And, obviously, as marketers, we didn’t focus on all the little, tedious details! How would our customer service team deal with the people who made offers, for example? Did we have enough helping hands? Would we use a central phone line? Had we even thought out the potential software glitches we could run into, or how to resolve the snafus of lost shipment?
We also, it turned out, completely underestimated the success of the sale. Prior to May 1 when we kicked things off with our first tweet—the one that got 20,000 impressions—I thought we’d maybe get a couple hundred offers. But once our social and email campaigns kicked in, we began to revise our estimates.
At the last minute we reconfigured the whole sale. Rather than receiving offers and pointing people in the direction of customer service to place their order, we created twenty-five special campaign codes to give to customers depending on what they offered. Those codes would then be used on our website directly. Customer service wouldn’t come into the picture until the aftermath: dealing with errors, issues, and fulfilling orders as quickly as possible. We ordered a gift basket from Zingerman’s for the CSRs.
A week before the sale, we went from thinking we’d maybe need three or four people checking emails on a semi-regular basis throughout the day to bringing the whole team (plus the director) into one room with laptops and desktops, putting all other work to one side, and barely leaving our seats or the room for twelve hours. And then Inside Higher Ed got in touch and published an article online about our no-longer-so-little sale.
On the big day, I arrived at 7:30am, closely followed by a colleague. We set up, sat down, and quickly realized we had no way of accessing the specially created email address for the sale to start responding to offers. We had decided to assign one team member to the email address and she would forward emails as they came in to each team member in rotation. I called and texted. No answer. Thankfully, our email forwarder showed up fairly soon; she had been walking to work and her cell phone was on silent. My mild panic reverted to excitement.
The “war room” quickly filled up and we had to make a little more room at the table as Dean Smith, our director, joined the fray with a perky (it was 8:30am!), “is there room for me?”
After the first hour it was already apparent that we hadn’t even come close to anticipating the response level we would get. We’d hit the 100 emails answered mark, and Adriana (our email comptroller) kept saying things like, “there are so many,” and “I can’t believe it.” Sort of to herself. Each of us, I think, had no idea how many emails she even had in her inbox.
A couple of hours in and we had established a rhythm and a system. What we had planned for went pretty smoothly. What we hadn’t planned for, we dealt with on the fly, creating new systems and procedures as things came up. By lunchtime the banter was quick witted, the music had already gone from jazz to rap to show tunes to big-hair bands and everything in between. I learned a lot about my team’s musical preferences. Four hundred emails had been answered.
By lunchtime it was undeniable that even with nine people working non-stop, we couldn’t keep up with the volume. We were answering emails that had come in four hours earlier in some cases and the sale inbox just kept filling up. This was another unexpected development, but, obviously, a good one. For us. We didn’t want customers to wait and wait and wait but we also didn’t want to conscript other CUP staff because there was a reasonably steep learning curve involved and the team was in a groove.
Many of the emails we received from people making offers included stories or explanations about why they were making this particular offer. Some of these stories were fascinating. Some emails contained profound declarations of appreciation for the sale and the opportunity to acquire some of our books. When a particularly good one came in, we read it out loud. Cheryl, our publicity manager, told us about a priest and his desire to read some of our books. An hour later she exclaimed, “the priest is back.”
The vast majority of people made good and fair offers and we accepted them. The team openly delighted in saying, “yes” to a person’s offer and sometimes felt sad when we could not accept one. A few people made offers that caused incredulity, and every now and then a team member would gasp or chuckle with wry amusement. “Twenty dollars for fifty books!” or something similar would bring a shake of the head and a “sorry, your offer isn’t quite good enough” email was sent.
On Twitter, #PWYW got enough attention that for the briefest of moments it trended. Colleagues from other departments made the trek to the third-floor war room to offer encouragement and to see what all the fuss was about and discover why they hadn’t seen a marketer for hours. These delightful interactions – online and in person – gave us more energy and on we pushed.
At 4:30pm EST we started using our social feeds to let people know the end of PWYW approached fast, and that if they didn’t hear back from us on PWYW day, we’d get to their offers as soon as possible. I had set up the special codes to be live for three days rather than one just in case something happened that we couldn’t predict. By this time in the day I may have been pleased with my foresight!
By 7:30pm on the 15th, when the last of us left for the evening, we had responded to approximately 1,000 emails. I spent the rest of the evening emailing the remaining 500 people to let them know we’d get back to them on the 16th. Anecdotally, the team thought that on average people made offers for three books and that most people made offers between $10 and $15 for each book. There didn’t seem to be a clear “leader” in which subject areas interested people or which books had received the most offers.
On the 16th we regrouped and spent another eight hours responding to emails. On the 17th we dealt with those we inadvertently missed.
Within a week, people started receiving their books. I’ve never seen as many pictures of university press books being ripped out of boxes or proudly displayed in a stack with comments such as, “just got my CUP #PWYW books,” “It’s Christmas in May!” or “Yes, they’ve arrived! #PWYW.” In essence we’ve received a second round of social promotion. This we did not foresee!
The Pay What You Want sale was a success. Simple as that.
We haven’t seen engagement with our brand, our books, and our people at such peak levels before. I don’t know, yet, if we can find them again with a marketing campaign, but we’ll certainly try. We know what this kind of success looks and feels like now and we’re all keen to experience it again. I’ve had people ask when we’re doing a PWYW day again. The answer, in all likelihood, is never. Certainly not for a long time. Part of the success came from the unexpected nature of this campaign, from the excitement it generated, from the agency people felt in telling us what they wanted to pay. I don’t want to try to recreate that success using the same formula. Instead, I want my team and I to be innovative and pioneering once again. I don’t want us to walk down the same path, even if it is a freshly trodden one. I want us to blaze a completely new trail.
Don’t worry, we’ll let you know when we put on our hiking boots again.
But what did we learn?
Well, people really liked this whole thing.
Grad students really liked this whole thing. It would seem that grad students want to buy our books but find the high-priced scholarly books they need too expensive.
Authors liked the sale. Perhaps less obvious but, anecdotally, the attention that some authors received went down really well. Yes, their books were purchased for significantly less than retail, but they’re being read!
Individual customers are willing to part with relatively large sums of cash for scholarly books if they believe they are getting a deal.
The act of making a deal is empowering.
Being told “you’re offer isn’t quite good enough” did not put too many people off; most people came back with a better offer.
Some people might have been trying to make a handsome profit off the sale by buying books as cheaply as they could and reselling them!
I’m not sure we learned much about the price points of scholarly books. The average offer was too low to be a sustainable business model for university presses. Perhaps, though, the average offer indicates that rethinking the pricing model used by most university presses is necessary.
You need a flexible and modern team of CSRs that is willing to go above and beyond in order to make this kind of sale work.
And, anecdotally, from the #PWYW team:
“PWYW was a sort of rejuvenation for me. I’ve been reminded, thanks to PWYW, that people still want to buy, and read, books. Given the overwhelming response we received from students, there is a whole new generation to pick up the slack.”—Nathan
“There was something exhilarating about directly interacting with so many ardent fans of our books in such a compressed amount of time. It felt personal and large-scale at the same time. I got into this line of work to help build communities of readers, and PWYW felt like we were doing exactly that.”—Cheryl
“It’s rare that publishers ever interact directly with their customers and I enjoyed hearing back from PWYW buyers who were deeply thankful and touched that we offered our books in this way. Late on the first night, a customer called us back and I helped her with a code and talked about her next book –an ethnographic study of living on the Afghanistan border in the early 2000s. It may end up with us.”—Dean
“My main takeaway is how unique an experience it was and how much fun it was to work together in one central *war room.* it was definitely one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had in 3 years of working at the Press.”—Elizabeth
“My impression of the PWYW sale was a feeling of gratitude from our customers. A positive experience for me and an affirmation of the importance of our books.”—David
“We received so many positive emails from students and professors deeply thanking us for this sale, and it felt really good to be able to help so many people get books they’ve always wanted.“—Jonathan
Recommended playlist (with just some of the classics that played on the afternoon of May 15th):
About the author of this blog post: Martyn Beeny is Marketing and Sales Director at Cornell University Press and a freelance consultant charging inordinate amounts per hour to other university presses for advice about running a PWYW sale.