Niko Pfund, Vice President and Publisher of the Academic and Trade division of Oxford University Press, recently offered answers to frequently asked publishing questions. Pfund’s first response touches on the topic of online availability and its impact (pro or con) on print sales. Pfund writes:
The more specialized a book, the more likely it is to benefit from online visibility, and the more likely it is that people will be sufficiently interested in or stimulated by an online viewing that they will purchase a print copy.
Pfund’s answer reminds me of Kevin Kelly’s “findability” generative and Tim O’Reilly’s argument that obscurity is a bigger threat to lesser-known authors than piracy.
This topic also touches on the murky issues of brand awareness in a digital platform. Online marketers are accustomed to detailed tracking reports, but all those click-throughs and ad impressions don’t reveal brand recognition. This discrepancy between the comfort of copious data points and the nervousness of brand building seems to be represented in publishing’s first moves into free/viral online distribution. As Pfund notes, “… these sorts of things are very difficult to pin down and quantify in any truly conclusive manner, given all the factors at play.” Even with the Web’s built-in analytics, a digital effort still requires a healthy dose of experimentation.
What’s interesting is that folks like Kelly, O’Reilly and Pfund have focused their thinking on specific groups — in this case, specialized books and obscure authors. Perhaps this shift toward individual application is the beginning of increased comfort with the ambiguity of digital-based brand efforts.