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The things that are used to promote books

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When it came out in Italy Crossroads, the highly anticipated last novel by the American writer Jonathan Franzen set in the 1970s, the publishing house that published it, Einaudi, had forty copies of a vinyl with the same cover produced to be given to some influencers, along with a free copy of the book. A vinyl seemed to be the most iconic item to promote a book with so many musical references, starting with the title. Stefano Jugo, marketing manager of Einaudi, said that making it was not easy because it was a period of great demand and slowdowns in production, but that in the end they succeeded and the initiative went well.

Gadgets are nothing new for publishing houses, which have always offered bags, backpacks, diaries and beach towels for free with the purchase of one or more books to boost sales at particular times of the year. In recent years, however, we have begun to think of more sought-after objects also to accompany individual books, especially in the promotional phase, when they are given as a tribute to influencers and content creators on Instagram and TikTok. The aim is to make new releases remembered and make them desirable, also leveraging the irresistible consumerist charm of opening packages, commonly known as unboxing.

“In dealing with the promotion of online books, we always try to involve creators and in general people who deal with books on social media, who are interested in our news”, explained Jugo, “and we always wonder how those books, gadgets and the experiences that sometimes accompany them can help them publish relevant, curious and exciting content for them and for the people who follow them ». Sometimes valuable objects are used, as in the case of Franzen’s vinyl, sometimes less precious things but designed to support a wider communication campaign. For the latest book in the series of Diego De Silva’s Melancholy lawyer, for example, Einaudi sent some influencers a folder of documents similar to those found in courtrooms, with the colors echoing those of the book cover and a letter asking the recipient to help Melancholy solve the case.

“For many people now information on books passes through totally visual media, such as Instagram and TikTok, and it is true that here the visual, tactile and physical aspect is fundamental”, said Adolfo Frediani, Feltrinelli press office: “this for publishing houses means having to focus on material objects: it seems absurd but in fact social networks, the most digital of all media, are putting physical objects at the center. A kind of “commodity fetish” is emerging, where the object has its own relevance ». If you look at the videos of young tiktokers talking about books – also called booktokers – you immediately notice the attention to books as objects, to the covers, to the pages that are often underlined and filled with colored post-its, to the bookcases that act as a background.

On TikTok, however, it is still quite rare to see communication campaigns studied like those of Feltrinelli. One of the most recent book and gadget combinations dates back to a book released in February for Garzanti, The fire-breathing girl by Giulia Binaldo Melis. Along with the book, the publishing house also sent some young booktokers a glass lantern with small rechargeable solar-powered lights inside. Looking at it, it looks like an object designed especially for a teenager’s bedroom.

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♬ original sound – maggie | Booktok

When one of Feltrinelli’s most anticipated books of recent months came out in January, Towards heaven by Hanya Yanagiahara, was sent as a tribute to 80 people with a canvas bag and an elegant illustrated cardboard box. Frediani di Feltrinelli explained that he had taken up an idea already put into practice for the same book in the United States: after contacting the illustrator he proposed the box set slightly modified in format and design. “One detail that I found important in this case was wrapping the book in tissue paper, so that when the box was opened the object would” reveal itself “”, he said: “If we think about it, it is an archaic dynamic, that of the religious tabernacle and unveiling, and that’s what Apple has been doing for twenty years: carefully designing the box to give value to the rite of opening, which on social media is nothing more than unboxing ».

Einaudi also took inspiration from Apple in some way: for the promotion campaign of Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, Klara and the sun, sent the book closed in a white box reminiscent of the iPhone to a few dozen influencers, with the serial number and other graphic references, to evoke the future populated by androids and ginoids of which Ishiguro speaks. Inside, in addition to the book, there was a QR code that referred to a site that everyone, even those who had not received the book, could access to test their relationship with artificial intelligence.

“Unboxing has been around for many years and the feeling is that it also began to be a bit outdated: like everything, after a while you propose it becomes boring”, continued Jugo: “then it’s TikTok arrived which is “inhabited” by many new, younger people, who have not already seen these things. Here we actually happen to see several unboxing, they are back with a new lymph. For us, however, the reasoning is always the same: think about what can be relevant, curious, exciting for the community that follows those people. It does not necessarily have to be an object, more and more often it is an experience ». For example, says Jugo, a polenta-based lunch cooked by Paolo Cognetti in his mountain hut for the release of The happiness of the wolfor a day in the bookshop of the poet Alba Donati, of which her latest book speaks The library on the hill.

Almost always the influencers who talk about books on Instagram and agree to have them sent to them as a gift by the publishing houses show them in the stories, then in videos of a few seconds that remain online for 24 hours and then disappear. As you can imagine, hitting the viewer isn’t easy at all. “The gadget is a tool to tell the book, something that can be touched and that gives body to that digital narrative” explained Nicola Bonimelli, commercial director of Edizioni Tlon, a publishing house that was born from a project with a strong presence on social networks : «It serves to make a book stand out among infinite contents and hundreds of other books released in the same period: but it has not only an aesthetic value, it must be linked to the book and to what the book is about».

Edizioni Tlon has made several experiments with the gadgets to accompany its books: prints with themed illustrations for the book The monstrous femalea puzzle to convey the idea of ​​the stories of Break upan essay dedicated to cases of female characters targeted by the press, e a pencil to plant in the ground for a book on the climate crisis, Choosing the future. Unlike the gadgets mentioned so far, these were also given to readers as well as to famous personalities on social networks: the first to book the book online at the time of the announcement were awarded the gift.

Using gadgets and material objects to promote stories is an approach that in recent years has also been used a lot for films and TV series, even more abstract content with much higher budgets than publishing. In some cases they have become occasions to simultaneously promote the books from which the films and series were based. For example when the series came out on Sky Anna, inspired by the book of the same name by Niccolò Ammaniti, many influencers posted on Instagram the photos of the “survival kit” they had received, consisting of a backpack, notebook, other small accessories and the book. Or when the movie came out Nomadland on Disney + and to promote it, the book and a model of the van of the protagonist of the story were used.

After the short promotional phase of the book, little or nothing remains online of the contents created by the influencers: the most popular gadgets and packages are kept as collectibles, the others are probably thrown away. It is not easy to understand when these operations work and when they do not, nor if they are worth the investment, which is usually given by the cost of gadgets, shipments and the creative agency, if involved: the influencers in these cases are almost not never paid, but they receive the gift and decide independently whether to show it and talk about it on their own channels or not.

According to Jugo, when you send books and objects as a tribute to a few dozen influencers, the only thing to do to measure the success of the campaign is “to see how much it bounces, how much is spread by people who are not just the ones you sent the book. If other people talk about it and spread the news of the book’s release, it is certainly a fact to take into consideration. In general, the success or failure of a book is not enough to say that the social campaign has worked, because it depends on too many factors “.

“Even when something goes very well, then you can’t do it again anyway, because it loses its meaning”, explains Frediani: “in May in the United States it came out Trust by Hernan Diaz and for the release they made a very nice and sophisticated box, but we decided not to do it again because it is too similar to that of Towards heaven and because it did not seem suitable for Italian readers ».

For a book by a Japanese author due out in June, Frediani said they will try to re-propose elegant packaging. After much thought, they asked the cover illustrator to come up with a pattern with which to illustrate a furoshiki, the cloth that is used in Japan to wrap and transport things. “It will not be a gadget, but a way of packaging the book that enhances it and we will send it to a selection of people made especially for the book in question,” she explained.

On Instagram, which was born as a social network for sharing photos, the tendency to approach books with evocative objects has existed for many years: there are many content creators who talk about books by photographing them in real sets built on purpose, alluding to aesthetics to the topic and the emotions that the book evokes. In Italy one of the first and most famous profiles of this type was that of Petunia Ollister, but over the years many have been born. Somehow, therefore, it is as if the publishing houses have tried to fit into this trend, procuring the objects themselves to set up the sets.