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January 30th, 2008

Does social media sell books? St. Martin’s Press says “sho’ nuff.”

It’s getting harder and harder to find examples where social media does, actually, sell stuff. One area where it is NOT hard to find examples is in publishing. Now I’m a bit biased here, as I landed a book deal with Crown Publishing specifically because I sold a few thousands books on my own using nothing but social media (so this is a simultaneous full & open disclosure, combined with a shameless self-promoting plug — the best of both sides of social media in one fell swoop).

But outside of the unique success stories of social media rags-to-riches stories like David Wellington and David Wong, let’s take a look at how a big-time publisher used it to sell books.

Now right off the bat, our example blurs the lines, because the example is RULE THE WEB by Mark Frauenfelder, published by St. Martin’s Press. If you haven’t heard of this guy, he’s a co-founder and regular blogger for BoingBoing.net. If you haven’t heard of BoingBoing.net, put down your abacus and stable the horse, it’s time for you to get caught up. BoingBoing.net is arguably the most-read blog on the planet (and since we only know of blogs on this planet, that makes it the most-read blog in the universe … nice work, Mark!).

So clearly, Fraunefelder (pictured at right) is a digital native with a big following of other digital natives. Even so, St. Martin’s didn’t rely on that alone to sell the book.

“We built a dedicated Web site for it,” said David Moldawer, editor of RULE THE WEB. “We used a blog to offer the same advice as the book, as well as a live podcast with interviews and a traditional, short, regular podcast with Web tips.”

They built the blog with TypePad, and hosted the podcast with BlogTalkRadio. They tried leverage Fraunfelder’s name along with the book’s website to multiple channels.

“We did extensive blogger outreach, both to people in our personal networks as well as to bloggers in the lifehack/Web tip arena,” Moldawer said.

RULE THE WEB peaked at #2 on Amazon’s “Computers & Internet” list, and hit #51 overall.

When it comes to these results, it’s impossible to tell if social media links happened because of the book’s content, or because of Frauenfelder’s status as internet royalty.

“It hit those peaks when the book was mentioned on sites like Lifehacker and 43 Folders,” Moldawer said.

And, of course, Fraunfelder posted about the book on BoingBoing.net, but the big sales peaks came when other heavyweight sites talked about the book.

“While Mark’s own posting about the book on Boing Boing certainly also boosted sales on Amazon, the mentions on the other Top 100 lifehack sites definitely had a sharper effect,” Moldawer said. “The lesson, which many of us already know, is that having other people talk about you is always more effective than talking about yourself.”

And don’t forget the obligatory video book promo on YouTube. The one listed here generated some 13,000+ views.

JUDGEMENT: DOES IT SELL BOOKS? Hard to say. Frauenfelder would have sold a boat-load of books with or without the extra efforts by St. Martin’s Press. The spike charting on Amazon that coincided with online media mentions in Lifehacker and 43Folders, however, does point to a strong correlation.

Those mentions, though, are more PR than social media initiatives – if you count Lifehacker as an established media outlet, which I do. Getting a post in Lifehacker is not a “social media initiative,” – it’s the same things as a New York Times book review, an established media source talking about a product.

Filed in Marketing, Media, Social Media

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