Word of mouth—the oldest marketing, and for a long time the only one. We can probably call it the most honest promotion as well—you spend nothing, and you get nothing for your effort, unless you’re recommending your own product or service (which wouldn’t be a true recommendation anymore).
“Don’t worry, books like University of Solitude spread by word of mouth,” a Slovak friend of mine said after a tennis match we played back in July, earlier this year.
He has lived abroad for a past few years, and he really liked my work (he read the original book back in 2014). In July, after we finished the tennis match, I told him that we were not doing great with the English edition of the book, selling just a few copies here and there. He was not worried, however, believing in the power of personal recommendations. He himself recommended the book to a few people, or at least he ensured me about doing that.
We talked for about half an hour and said goodbye to each other afterwards. I haven’t seen him since that rainy afternoon, and I soon forgot what he had said about my book.
The last time
On Sunday, while driving home, I suddenly remembered what my friend had said three months ago. I don’t know why I did remember. Maybe my brother said something (he was sitting next to me in the car), or maybe I heard a word in the song we were listening to on our way back home. Anyway, it called the memory back to life. Word of mouth. Does it really work for books in 21st century? Can it work for the University of Solitude, or for your publication?
I tried to recall the last time. The last time somebody personally recommended me a book—any book. I couldn’t remember such an occasion. After a few minutes I realized it actually did happen, in Argentina, back in January. One girl I met on the trail recommended me a few books from famous Argentinean poets and novelists. I noted them down to my mobile phone. But before I could get the books back in Slovakia, my mobile phone got broken, and I lost all the date including the note with the book names. Anyway, I was in Argentina nine months ago. Since then nothing, no recommendations. . . .
I asked my brother the same question, forgetting that he worked in a library. There, obviously, readers recommend him books time to time, since they return them to him after having finished their reading. But did he get any recommendations outside of his job? He couldn’t remember.
So, can a new book become popular thank to the word of mouth? Honestly, I don’t think so.
Talking about nothing
People just don’t talk about books they read. That’s not the common topic of friends’ conversation. News (personal or from the world), politics, gossips, daily stuff, work—that’s what people talk about nowadays. Many young people actually don’t talk about anything. They meet just to stare at the displays of their mobile phones. Not much is said or done on the meeting.
And do people actually meet at all?
Each culture is different. But when we speak about the so-called “civilized world”, or, if you want, the “most developed countries”, we realize that older people (working people) do not meet often with friends. Being busy, they work, spend time with the family, sleep, work, and repeat that all over again. Many people I know work all the time—physically being at home, or on a football pitch, they still have their jobs in their minds.
I do not want to argue whether such a lifestyle is right or healthy for a person, and for a human society as a whole. But I hope you will agree with me that older people just don’t meet with peers that often. Possibilities to personally recommend a book, even if they wanted to recommend it, become rare.
“My friends don’t read books”
My brother replied, trying to analyze why he didn’t get any book recommendations outside of his librarian job. Simple as that—people read less nowadays, and many young people don’t read at all—at least they don’t read books (surely, they read Facebook statuses, Tweets, Instagram updates and other “important” messages).
Chance of getting recommended to somebody further decreases with this realization.
Other marketing channels play the prime
A hundred years ago, when nobody had a television and you couldn’t hear a single commercial in the radio; personal recommendations were often the only source of information. And they were reliable. People were not only giving recommendations—they were actively seeking them!
In the 21st century, when billboards, magazines, ever-present online ads, television, radio, and hundred of other voices constantly try to “recommend us” what we should buy and spend our time doing, people hardly care about personal recommendations. Being tired of all the marketing pressure, many of us don’t even want to hear personal recommendations. When we meet a friend, we finally want to turn off. The last thing we are interest in is another “product recommendation”, doesn’t matter who is endorsing the product.
The scissors effect
People, communities, countries. Football players, clubs, leagues. Musicians, writers, artists. 5% “attracts” 95% of interest, money, and fame. The big names, supported by people and organizations with deep pockets always steal the show. Writing books has become a business. The same applies to art—sad but true. And the gap is widening every year.
You can try to convince me of the opposite, but I don’t think you’d succeed. First book, indie published? Chances to get any attention are more than slim.
You need readers to get recommendations
The circle starts and ends always at the same point. If we sell fifty copies of the book (with the help of other marketing efforts), a chain effect can hardly start. Getting personally recommended would be nice, if people were recommending books at all. But even if they were recommending books, you would need to get read first to have a chance to get recommended. More than 4,000 new books are published every single day. Considering only this one figure, you can bet that getting readers is definitely not a piece of cake. Even with the talent and the most inspirational story. . . .
What action will You take?
If you aren’t living in the little bubble of your selfishness, you’ll agree that the situation in the world is bad. Very bad.
Have you read any good books? Books that help people think independently, books that develop one’s tolerance, empathy, and respect towards the others, books that open new horizons in the minds of their readers? If you read such a book, please recommend it to your friends.
But do not do it on your social platforms, Facebook or Twitter. Recommend the books personally. Bring a good book to the meeting and lend it to one of your peers.
Book is a special medium. It requires time, and attention. Book is not a news article or a song you are done with in three minutes. . . . This make them much more difficult to sell, but also gives them a certain advantage other mediums can just dream about. Books can help, influence, and change people in a way no other medium can do.
Good books should not stay in your bookshelves, collecting dust. They should be talked about, read, recommended, and lent.