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Case Study: How a Controversial Book Became a Bestseller via an Aggressive Web Campaign

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Company: Vanguard Press
Contact: Jeffery Anderson, senior publicity director at FSB Associates
Location: New York, NY
Industry: Publishing, B2C
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: Confidential

Quick Read:

Vincent Bugliosi is the bestselling author of Helter Skelter, And the Sea Will Tell, Outrage, and Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His most recent book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, also achieved New York Times bestseller status this year, but only after its publisher Vanguard Press undertook an unconventional Web campaign to promote the book.

When all the usual media channels, such as TV shows and book reviewers, passed on The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder due to its sensitive subject matter, Vanguard hired FSB Associates, an online publicity firm, to build excitement and exposure for the book on progressive blogs and alternative Web sites with audiences that might appreciate the book's theme.

The campaign worked, generating more than 85 blog posts and many more links to those threads. The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder landed on The New York Times bestseller list in July, and over 60,000 copies have been sold since the book's release in late May of this year.


Challenge:

Vincent Bugliosi is an accomplished writer with several books that have attained #1 status on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. Accordingly, mainstream media is generally quick to jump on anything tied to his name.

But when Bugliosi's publisher, Vanguard Press, set out to promote his latest work, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, the mainstream media outlets didn't bite. Feedback was that the subject matter was too controversial, especially since it concerned a sitting President, and therefore carried too much risk.

Vanguard consequently decided to try promoting the book via the Web and contacted Basking Ridge, NJ-based FSB Associates to assist in developing a grassroots campaign to generate buzz among bloggers and other online media.

Campaign:

FSB devised and carried out a two-month Web campaign, which launched on May 1, 2008.

The campaign began by offering content to progressive Web sites and blogs. Two weeks later, FSB mailed copies of the book to select reviewers and arranged for an exclusive excerpt feature to be posted on top progressive blogs.

Bloggers were further informed of a dedicated Web site that Vanguard had created for the book, along with a video book trailer that could be added to their blogs.

After the book's release on May 26, 2008, three more excerpts were strategically distributed to progressive blogs, book sites, and niche communities such as anti-war blogs and activists sites. A few conservative media outlets were also targeted.

In all instances, FSB was careful to customize its communication with every outlet approached, providing detailed content that spoke to the specific interests of the channel's readers.

Results:

In the few months since its release, more than 60,000 copies of The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder have been sold. The book also appeared on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list at #14 on July 5, 2008.

"There's no question [the Web] drove sales. It drove word-of-mouth across the board," said Roger Cooper, publisher and VP at Vanguard Press.

At least 85 blogs and Web sites have featured the book since May, including the Huffington Post and CommonDreams.org. A Google search of the book's title currently returns over 200,000 links.

"An impressive amount of buzz was created, not only from the blogs and sites that featured the book, but from the word of mouth power of the readers," FSB Senior Publicity Director Jeffery Anderson added.

"The features we secured resulted in thousands of reader comments posted, and those discussions carried over into many other sites and online forums. We observed links to the excerpt features and mentions on discussion boards by scores of individual readers who helped spread the word simply through their own personal interest in the book."

Lessons Learned:

  • Appeal to special interests. Although mainstream media was apprehensive about promoting the book, the book's controversial subject matter was a topic of interest for bloggers and readers within progressive online communities. 

    Rather than blanketing the Web, FSB focused its efforts and targeted these groups specifically, offering excerpts and other information that directly related to the issues these communities like to discuss. As a result, the company was able to generate a significant amount of buzz within a short timeframe.
  • Offer usable content. In addition to intriguing excerpts, FSB provided bloggers and other media with complete content that was tailored to each outlet's audience and delivered in a format that could be posted directly without modification, if desired. 

    "Web site editors and bloggers are looking for usable features," said Anderson. "The art of the book review is, unfortunately, in decline, and the needs of most sites are to fill space quickly and easily."

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.

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  • by deb mull Wed Sep 10, 2008 via web

    While I applaude the case study and realize that it is all about 'marketing', I think the timing of the article is rather interesting with the upcoming elections and feel that perhaps this could have waited until afterwards?

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