The Bookseller #MandP14 Conference & how Crystal Mahey-Morgan almost made me cryNews
This week I went along to the Bookseller Marketing and Publicity Conference with my colleague Kelechi Anucha. It is no secret that such conferences can be pretty expensive for a small publishing house like ours, but with the support and encouragement of Valerie Brandes, our publisher and founder, we were able to go along.
It was an excellent day and I am so glad we could attend; kudos to Alice Ryan for organising a great event. Though some aspects were geared towards the bigger houses, the advice was incredibly valuable, and I was able to take away brilliant information for our team regarding dealing with journalists and booksellers, and how to rethink our social strategy and content marketing. However, the highlight of my day was hearing Crystal Mahey-Morgan speak.
Crystal is the Digital Account Manager at Random House UK and the lady behind the campaign for Self Belief: the Vision by Jamal Edwards, a young black millionaire and founder of youth channel SBTV. Jamal’s target audience was an urban market of digitally-focused young people, traditionally thought of as non-readers. The book appeared to be a challenge to publish, but Crystal spoke passionately of how she was able to form an excellent digital strategy using social media and mobile technology, by looking at the habits and interests of Jamal’s fans. The success and genius of the campaign is well documented, but what really touched me was the plea she made to the publishing industry to be more open-minded.
Crystal demonstrated that ‘knowing’ our audience is very different to ‘understanding’ them. Often in publishing I hear about groups who ‘don’t read’ or ‘won’t buy books’, but no one seems to delve much into the reasons why those groups don’t seem to consume much literature. There is a market of Black and Minority Ethnic readers and young urban youth who are not being reached by the publishing industry in the way that they are by the music industry. Could it be that these groups do not recognise themselves represented in the stories, covers, authors, industry professionals or publicity and marketing campaigns? Is it any wonder, then, that they do not flock to Waterstones or Foyles to buy our bestsellers? Truly understanding your audience and what they want, and then producing a product and marketing campaign that fulfils this brings amazing results, as Crystal demonstrated with the campaign for Self Belief.
‘Flex to your audience’s comfort zones and buying habits, don’t expect them to flex to yours,‘ Crystal said. Publishers need to learn to reach beyond what we know and like. This point was reiterated in the section of the conference focusing on consumer insights, and it is particularly important in relation to minority groups who are severely under-represented in the publishing workforce. Despite the incredible creativity that we have, the industry is still, in my opinion, slow or reluctant to adapt in ways that will reach out to ‘the other’.
However, even what we think we ‘know’ can be flawed; the assumptions that are made about the reading habits of Black and Minority Ethnic groups are poorly informed. A single visit to the sell-out Black Book Swap events or the Africa Writes Festival (occurring this weekend) will leave you in no doubt that not only is this a dedicated market of readers, but that this market is hungry for more. It is the frustration at the lack of books to satisfy this hunger which is leading to a disillusionment with reading, rather than a lack of desire to read in itself.
We can publish and sell books to anyone, we just need to have the right book for the audience we are targeting, and bring it to market in the appropriate manner. This point made by Crystal is also the Jacaranda Books’ company ethos and the reason I am proud to be a part of a team that aims, in our own minuscule way, to address the lack of diversity in publishing. I almost cried with joy to see Crystal talk about this issue in front of some of the biggest players in the industry. I honestly could have gone up to the stage and kissed her (I settled for chatting with her at the end instead). After some years in publishing and standing out as being different, of listening to the misconceptions about people like me, people I know and went to school with, it means so much to have these issues addressed. I hope that we will begin to see a more open-minded and diverse approach to our publishing strategies as a result.
Thank you Alice Ryan for a great conference, and thank you Crystal Mahey-Morgan for saying what I have wanted to so many times.