Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A valuable marketing lesson for librarians can be found in something as simple as book jackets…

My morning browse of Flipboard contained this post detailing why book jackets are hated.  This hit a particular note with me as I just recently had a similar discussion in our library.  In reading both the this post and hearing what was said in my library, I was struck with the same thought -- many librarians discount the importance and value of marketing in meeting the day-to-day objectives and goals of librarianship.  Which they should not do.

When I first noted that our library removed all book jackets from purchased works, I asked: Why?  The answers were pretty much what I thought I would hear: a) that book jackets are printed on lower quality paper and therefore they wouldn't last as long as the works themselves, b) they added to the cost and processing time of new works and c) once removed, the book jackets were used by others on campus for art and community event projects.  

In response, I pointed out the following:  1) circulation of printed works is flat and/or declining and 2)  publishers spend a fair amount of money trying to come up with attractive book jackets and for a good reason, which is 3) the value of book jackets is in the marketing of the work, i.e., drawing readers to pick up the work, engage with it and hopefully then read (and in the case of bookstores, purchase) the work, and thus,  4) why do librarians think having book jackets display in the online catalog is important? 5) I wasn't worried about the life of the book jacket, by the time it wore out the work would no longer be new and would likely be shelved in the regular collection, and finally 6) if we could get readers to pick up the work and read it when it was new, wasn't it likely that if they enjoyed it, they would tell friends/colleagues and they too would read the work thus further increasing the usage?

To further illustrate my point, I went to the local Barnes and Noble store, where I walked around and photographed a number of their retail display areas. 

 In reviewing those pictures, it further occurred to me that Barnes and Noble, in particular, displays books they want to move quickly, i.e. new arrivals (as they call them) along with books that are on sale at a discounted price with the cover facing the reader.  Works not in those categories, i.e. works that someone might routinely expect the store to stock, are frequently shelved in traditional style, i.e. with the binding facing the reader.   Interesting.

At this same time, I was in the process of visiting and touring a number of leading research libraries across the countries to see their learning commons.  So, while visiting I checked out their new book display areas.  Virtually all of them were leaving the book jackets on their new books.  Furthermore, many of them were displaying those same new works with the covers forward-facing. 

Loyola University - New Book Display
I further noted that the Dean of the Loyola University Library told me they restocked their new work display every morning.  I was visiting with him in the early afternoon and a fair number of the new works on display were already gone.  Very interesting.

So, back at my library, I laid out my findings and suggested we try putting the book jackets on all new works.  When we ran the analysis the cost was actually quite low, even when further adding a cellophane cover to the book jacket to improve their durability.  The processing time also turned out to be quite modest and, as a result of running that analysis, we found some steps we'd been doing that were no longer needed, thus making this investment of time a almost total break-even.

All new works that come with book jackets are now keeping them.  Finally, we ran stats on our new works for the last year so as to establish a base line of circulation comparison data to measure the impact of this change.  So now we'll see what happens.  However, my instinct tells me we'll see an upward climb in the usage stats.  

As librarians, whether we like it or not, we are competing for the attention of our users.  So are our resources.  Which also means that as librarians, we should consider the importance, value and execution of the marketing and promotion component in conducting our day to day activities.