Reading: Hobby or Lifestyle?

Have you ever had a favorite author/actor/singer and were so excited to support this talent in a new and diverse space, but found yourself so disappointed and couldn’t go back to idolizing their writing/acting/music?

I’m going to assume that everyone has suffered through a comparable disappointment. I like to think I’ve gotten smart over the years and try to limit my intake of new mediums, as to staunch the overflow of disappointment when I realize that just because I love, say, Reba McEntire on her television show, her music ruins it for me. The same holds true for my love of author Joanne Rendell’s contributions to The Huffington Post.

I can’t bring myself to read either of her two novels – even after reading many positive reviews online and staring at her books in the deeply discounted employee gift shop at Penguin. Luckily, she’s a regular blogger and I follow her on Twitter, so I can get my “fix” often.

My favorite article by her is smart, clever, and true, summarized by her declaration: “Publishing industry, listen up, it’s time to sell reading.”

Her article, “Time to Sell Reading: What the “Good” Publishing Industry Needs to Learn from the Big “Bad” Drug Industry” (The Huffington Post, September 8, 2009) brings to light something reminiscent from my advertising days of touting a lifestyle instead of simply a product.

Rendell’s proposition is simple: Portray reading as a hip, trendy, even social activity that vivacious and attractive people engage in; give reading an enviable personality to which consumers aspire to achieve. Comparable to the way pharmaceutical advertisements feature healthy looking people, frolicking through the changes of seasons, publishers should tout the benefit and experience of reading.

Similar to Maria Menuous being the spokesperson for Pantene hair care, I doubt the reading public would revolt at a celebrity match for books. The success of SKINNY BITCH can largely be traced back to the picture snapped by paparazzi of Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham buying the book. The Belfast Telegraph reports the incredible sales figure mere hours after the photo was published of the book leaping up Amazon’s sales charts – an increase of 37,000%.

Earlier this year, gossip blog Jezebel snapped Sarah Jessica Parker carrying the bestselling book, THE HELP. While the sales implications weren’t as clear on an already popular title, the photo has garnered more than 3,500 views, which undoubtedly seeds awareness of the book.

Are these public, candid photographs the beginning of a new era of book advertising? Will the more literary celebrities become the image of new releases, with publishers bidding against each other to have their choice celeb deeply engrossed in their latest title, with the cover prominently featured? Though some of the more purely literary works may think it cheapens the book industry, I think it’s an idea worth investigation.

Unlike Rendell, I do work in marketing in the publishing industry, and I plan to take her insights and advice to heart. We all know publishing could use some of the monetary zeros the pharmaceutical industry seems to flaunt. As Rendell states in conclusion, “Books can offer us so much. They can offer deep insights, escapism, healing, empathy, knowledge, and revival.” Sounds like a worthy investment to me.

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6 Responses to “Reading: Hobby or Lifestyle?”

  1. vizionheiry October 21, 2009 at 12:27 am #

    I agree that a photo of a celebrity with a book (cratily positioned toward the camera) is great publicity for a book.

  2. Lydia Hirt October 21, 2009 at 10:28 am #

    Visionheiry: A celebrity with a book is great publicity, but do you think it would also be an effective tool in the paid placement worlds of marketing and advertising?

    I look forward to your thoughts!

  3. Joanie October 22, 2009 at 11:35 am #

    Yes, Yes, Yes! A celebrity holding, even thumbing, a book…what a great gimmick! There are so many followers of the “Hollywood set”. I think they would pay $1.00 for a nickel a celebrity held. It is a sad comment on our society…heh??
    Of course this form of advertising happens in the almost every movie, a coke can on a counter, a Macy’s bag on the floor, a bottle of beer, and on & on.

  4. Jen Forbus October 23, 2009 at 12:43 pm #

    I also love this idea. The ALA does that with their library posters…celebs with a book they value. The best marketing, however, would come from candid shots taken unknowningly of the celebs. Those are the ones that say, “I’m reading this because I WANT to, not because I’m being paid to.”

    Great article Lydia!

  5. Pop Culture Nerd October 23, 2009 at 12:52 pm #

    Seeing a celeb holding a book IS effective publicity, though it worked with me in a slightly different manner than you might imagine.

    I absolutely cannot stand Katherine Heigl but saw a picture of her a couple years ago reading EAT, PRAY, LOVE. I thought the title and cover looked interesting, I Googled it, liked the description and bought a copy. Loved the book and have been recommending it to friends ad nauseam.

    In this instant, the celeb holding the book was irrelevant to me. That girl couldn’t sell me a cold lemonade after I’d been walking the desert for 3 days. But it made me aware of the book because I hadn’t heard of it before seeing that picture.

  6. Shawn October 23, 2009 at 1:51 pm #

    I completely agree. Celebrities can “sell” pretty much anything — why not get them to sell the reading lifestyle?

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