Media: Strategy Analysis - Novel approach leads to serialisation

Brand: The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G W Dahlquist
Client: Penguin
Brief: Create a groundbreaking pre-launch that generates word of mouth
and drives sales for the hardback book launch
Target audience: Keen book readers and entertainment junkies; people who
actively seek out fresh and original entertainment

AGENCIES
Idea and strategy: Michaelides & Bednash
Digital creative: Digit
Online seeding: Holler
Media: Total Media

STRATEGY

There are approximately 1,500 books published every week, but only a handful of those ever go on to achieve any success.

This was the stark commercial backdrop for Penguin's brief. It wanted an idea that would reinforce Penguin's reputation as the most original, inventive publishing brand in the country. But far more importantly than this, the company needed an idea that would make a new, dense 750-page hardback, from an unknown author, a publishing success.

The significant insight for the strategy was that reading The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, with its nail-biting, cliffhanger-style, chapter-endings, was similar to the experience of watching a must-see TV series such as Lost or 24.

Given the similarity of The Glass Books ... to these kinds of TV programmes, Penguin wanted to create a similar kind of "watercooler experience" for readers. To achieve this aim, it took its inspiration from the Victorian writer Charles Dickens, who often published his novels in weekly instalments. The strategy was to serialise The Glass Books ... into chapters, and send these to a limited number of paying subscribers week by week. The marketing for the book was about repackaging it into a shared reading experience - a focal point for word of mouth and PR to drive launch sales of the hardback.

This meant having to invent ways to bring book lovers, opinion leaders and the media together, and encourage them to discuss the book's plot. The idea also fitted neatly with the narrative of the book, which has a very Victorian feel.

EXECUTION

- Online: The weekly serialisations were only available for sale online. Readers were encouraged to subscribe in order to receive a chapter a week, delivered to their door. There were a limited number of subscriptions, which were only available for a limited time.

The campaign kicked off in July 2006, with the launch of the Penguin editor's blog and a site giving readers a rich and multi-layered experience of the book.

Readers were also led to The Glass Books ... website via PR in traditional press and online seeding. Penguin also ran competitions to win subscriptions.

RESULTS

The Glass Books ... instalments were the top-selling product on the Penguin website in 2006. More importantly, the strategy generated the necessary PR impact to increase the profile of the hardback launch both with the trade and consumers.

The publisher, Penguin, has sold nearly five times as many hardback copies of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters as a typical literary debut. Waterstone's selected the hardback as its "Book of the Month", and the novel has been hovering just outside of the top ten on the bestseller list for the past four weeks.

THE VERDICT - Mick Rigby, managing partner, Monkey

PR and word of mouth clearly form a major part of Michaelides & Bednash's masterplan for this book. And it has definitely achieved at least one sale. After just 20 minutes spent reading through the literature, website and blogs, I'm sufficiently intrigued to go out and buy one.

But what about the campaign? It certainly seems a departure from your average book promotion. But when so many are published each week, and so few sell in decent numbers, what publishing house is going to risk a big promotional budget on a newcomer? The onus is on the agencies to squeeze every drop of promotional effect from the resources available.

The insight of recreating the "cliffhanger experience" by releasing a chapter a week online is strong; it offers something tangible around which to plan. But in today's world of immediacy and information on-tap, did the weekly release of a chapter run the risk of just pissing people off, or was it a brilliant way of grabbing the audience? I liked it, but I'm undecided if it would appeal to all. The sales figures suggest it was a risk worth taking, but I have a nagging suspicion it could have had a negative effect for some.

But I like the idea of creating a "water-cooler moment" for books. I don't know if this has ever been intentionally tried before, but it taps into a key feature of book buying. Personally, I reckon around half of the books I've bought were recommended by a mate or a colleague - and I'd imagine this is the case for many bookworms. The evidence suggests the campaign didn't generate much of a buzz beyond a few blogs, but I guess this could be down to budget restrictions.

Among the stated objectives of the campaign was to achieve a groundbreaking pre-launch. The category isn't known for its innovation and daring, so the good thoughts and actions here - along with the decent sales figures I've already mentioned - indicate at least a partial success. As for the strategy, that's a trickier question. It's definitely good, but is it great? Again, the evidence is inconclusive - but budget restrictions have clearly played a major part. I wonder if M&B would have achieved a proportionally bigger hit with a bit more marketing spend to play with. If I were Penguin, I might risk giving it a bit more next time, and see what it can really do.

Score: 3 out of 5.