Opening the Book
Above: The 3 main images – we have portrait and landscape versions
We also have specific examples of print items such as Bookmarks and Reader-to-reader card for patrons to share reading experiences
Take a risk
Who do you want to be today?
What are people looking for when they come to the library? Patrons don’t come to visit libraries for paperbacks or hardbacks, e-books or audio. They don’t come for CDs or DVDs or reference books – or even computers. They come for the experience they can access through all these things. People come to the library looking for a challenge, a thrill, a shock, an edge, an escape. For comfort, discovery, knowledge, imagination, inspiration. Some come for warmth and safety too.
Commercial advertisers have known for years that the best way to sell a product is to persuade customers to imagine themselves enjoying the experience it offers. If you’re a fan of Mad Men (as I am), you’ll see this demonstrated in every episode, it’s what Don Draper and Peggy Olson are especially good at. Of course, libraries are quite different from commercial outlets but we shouldn’t be above learning from the success of others. At Opening the Book, we have combined an awareness of retail success with a profound understanding of the values and practices of the library to create an entirely new approach to book promotion and display. We call it reader-centered promotion.
Most library promotions start from an author, a genre or maybe a seasonal theme – spring, Halloween, Christmas. It can be difficult to make this feel fresh – the books are often predictable and the graphics and display material a bit tired. Instead we start from the reader and you’ll be astonished at how much creativity this can unlock.
There’s a great phrase we use to explain the reader-centred approach – Sell the sizzle not the sausage. The best-known TV commercial for sausages in the UK did not show a big greasy sausage with proportions of meat and fat content and things you’d rather not know about. Instead, the commercial conjured a picture of how sausages might fit in your life – the warmth and reassurance of traditional home-cooked comfort food as a family gathers on a winter’s evening after work and school. Everyone who saw it wanted that house and family!
If you want to make reading attractive you will need to do the same thing. Start from the reading experience. What will the books do for the reader? What kind of experience do they offer? Don't waste all your planning time on discussing the sausages - deciding whether to have this book or that one - when you should be selling the sizzle.
With this in mind we have worked with our partners at Brodart to come up with three sizzling reader-centered promotions. These specially commissioned promotions convey the magic of the discovery that awaits your patrons within the pages of their next book. Imaginative concepts centered in the reading experience are illustrated with striking visual designs and supported by great book collections. Discover is a sparkling image which will appeal to boys as much as girls and can be used with a wide range of ages from under 5 to 11 years. In our booklist we’ve mixed non-fiction books in with fiction to give a balance of gender appeal.
Exploring perception and identity is at the core of young adult experience and books offer a powerful and private way of doing it. Who do you want to be today? celebrates the potential of reading with just the right mix of the beautiful and the sinister to appeal to a YA audience. The booklist includes a great mix of fiction, biography, fashion, self-help and travel.
Sometimes a book you never expected to enjoy turns into a favourite. So why not encourage everyone to take a little risk occasionally with what they choose? If it doesn’t work out, just put it back and choose again. Books you might think will never get checked out become hot titles if you put them into Take a risk on a book.
You can use these promotions at any time of the year – they don’t have to coincide with a season or an event. In the UK libraries circulate them round branches. The concepts are broad enough to make it easy to keep well stocked with an intriguing mix of titles. Brodart Books have a great offer on monthly subscription lists; they’ve done the work to pull together a wide-ranging mix of titles – brilliant cover designs, a mix of age and gender appeal, non-fiction as well as fiction. You’re never going to run out of books to top up the display or have to tell disappointed patrons their only option is to join the line for reservations.
There’s a lot of pressure on libraries at the moment to up their game when it comes to marketing. We exist in a competitive world where the demands on people’s time have never been so varied and complex. Of course, the commercial sector sees the reader as a consumer and wants to influence what they buy. Libraries have nothing to sell but a good read. We have more freedom to look beyond a transaction, whether it’s buying or borrowing, and to enrich people’s reading lives by opening up their reading choices and helping them find something new.
Reader-centered promotions recognise that reading is a creative experience not a passive one. When you read, you put on somebody else’s shoes and walk around inside their world. Reading allows us to try on somebody else’s life and to imagine other lives and places.
Reading offers the experience of empathy and perspective, understanding and insight as well as entertainment, knowledge and key facts. Readers are not consumers, they are a thinking audience. I think it’s time library displays recognised this and moved to a greater level of creativity and sophistication in their promotional offers. We hope these great graphics and booklists will inspire you to do this!
If you’d like to debate the ideas in this column, or make suggestions for what you think will work best in your libraries, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.