This just in: college kids read books for fun! That’s why book publisher Alfred A. Knopf has partnered with Youth Media and Marketing Networks (Y2M) for an effort aimed at getting the college crowd interested in some of its more hip titles by young, up-and-coming authors.
The marketing firm last fall surveyed college students for Knopf, a division of Random House, and found that 97 percent of college students read at least one book in addition to course material each semester. Seventy-nine percent buy new books at bookstores and 44 percent buy new titles online.
“We were actually surprised at how much these students were reading in addition to their course work,” said Scott DiPerna, manager of special marketing at Knopf. “They actually read a handful of books over the course of the year and especially during the summer.”
The survey led to a full-fledged marketing relationship between the publisher and Y2M. The main hub of the campaign is the 21stCenturyLit.com site. The site’s content, which currently consists mostly of brief synopses of Knopf titles, was created collaboratively by Knopf and Y2M and is distributed in book sections of Y2M’s network of over 400 online campus newspapers.
In exchange for the right to place advertising across that network, Y2M provides content management technology and hosting to the college paper sites. Network sites featuring the new book sections include Boston College’s “The Heights” and Ohio State University’s “The Lantern”. Though Knopf is the sponsor and takes part in the content creation, the publisher’s name isn’t prominent on 21stCenturyLit.com, nor is it explicitly identified as promotional content.
The book site network will eventually feature podcasts with author readings, listings of author tour appearances, reading group ideas, and student-submitted reviews. The site currently offers podcasts of readings by Brent Runyon, author of “The Burn Journals,” and solicits reviews of books from site visitors for the chance to win a copy of Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. User reviews can be of books from any publisher, not just Knopf. “We want to give the sense that these are the young writers of the next century that are going to be the important writers,” explained DiPerna.
Y2M will also help promote Knopf titles by hosting online press conference chats between authors and college newspaper editors each month. It’s important to build a long-term relationship with the college demographic, stressed Y2M VP and general manager Dina Pradel. “You can’t develop relationships and trust with students if you’re just constantly in and out with brief campaigns,” she added, noting that a “more full blown campaign” for Knopf will launch when the fall semester starts.
According to DiPerna, Knopf plans to promote the 21stCenturyLit site in conjunction with other marketing efforts it develops to target 18-30 year-olds in the future, including online promotions aimed at bloggers and Web ads on The Onion and Nerve.com, a relatively highbrow sex site. Ads linking to a MySpace page dedicated to Knopf’s “Pretty Little Dirty” by Amanda Boyden can be seen currently on Nerve.com.
Referring to the marketing effort it takes to help establish a new author like Boyden, DiPerna commented, “My feeling is why am I going to do all of that when there are already 60 million users on MySpace” who can help build an audience through a social community. DiPerna said Knopf encourages young authors to set up profiles on sites like MySpace and college-centric social networking site Facebook. This approach works best for less-established authors, noted DiPerna, who quipped, “I wouldn’t put a John Grisham on MySpace.”
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