Do We Need a Completely New Approach to Marketing Books? A series of articles by Designers & Books

Designers & Books started a new series of articles with the hope to evolve into an ongoing forum for discussing best practices, creative thinking, and innovative approaches to marketing books.

The impetus for this initiative came from comments Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle made at the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair. In his keynote address, Dohle was optimistic about the state of the global book business, maintaining that the industry was “doing better now than it has been for the past 50 years, and perhaps even since its inception, and that was some 500 years ago.”

At the same time, though, he did, in his words, “pour a little cold water on the subject” when he identified various challenges he felt book publishers, sellers, and authors needed to address. Key among them was this: “We need a completely new approach to marketing books.”

Now, with the start of a new decade, we’ve decided to try to understand what members of the publishing community took away from Mr Dohle’s comment about marketing two years ago and get a read on their current thinking.

To do this Designers & Books sent out a five-question email survey to a cross-section of the publishing community, asking for their comments about Mr Dohle’s comments. Many responses came from authors (fiction and nonfiction), publicists, editors, and publishers from large international operations and also from small independent publishers and university presses, bookstore owners, bloggers, curators who publish, social media experts, and various other publishing industry consultants. Respondents were both US- and internationally based.

The Survey Questions were the following

  • Do you agree with Mr Dohle that, “We need a completely new approach to marketing books”?
  • What one or two indications lead you to agree or disagree with Mr Dohle’s position?
  • What developments, if any since Mr Dohle made his comment (October 2017) are you aware of that would provide optimism for concluding that things are changing or getting better?
  • Are there any ideas for improving how books are marketed that you would like to see more commonly implemented?
  • What do you think of crowdfunding (Kickstarter, etc.) as a way to launch online preorder campaigns for books to the public?


On their first survey Designers & Books focused on replies to the first two questions of the survey. Respondents split their opinions in the question of a “completely new approach to marketing” in three ways.  Yes, No and It depends.

Some of those who agreed said:

“The current new generation of readers has obvious changes in their reading behaviour and habits. Less time is spent on reading, and digitization has provided reading alternatives for many. As publishers, we do need to adapt to these changes, hence innovating beyond the traditional ways of marketing books seems to be a sensible suggestion.” — publisher

“Looking for a new approach is inevitable, as bookstores do not seem to be viable any longer and Amazon is too much of a monopoly.” —author

Those who disagreed responded:

“I disagree with ‘completely new’ because, in a sense, no matter the changes, you will still have writers, artists, designers, publishers, readers, and places where readers and consumers need to discover and acquire books. So, while certain things may change, you still end up with those players.” — author

“I don’t agree that we need a new way to market books. There are always advances and changes in how marketing works but the basics have always remained the same. Word of mouth and reader to reader is slow but honest. Booksellers and reviewers giving praise works. I understand the point he’s getting at but we come from fundamentally different places.” —bookseller

And those who agreed generally but didn’t feel the need to walk away from all existing practices commented:

“Everything builds on what exists, so it’s not possible in any field to create ‘a completely new approach,’ only to modify and adjust to new conditions and circumstances.” — author and museum curator

“I think ‘completely new’ is a bit of a stretch. I think we definitely need to adjust our approach though.” —publishing executive, marketing

“I don’t believe that the old models are completely obsolete. We just need to adapt the more conventional models to align with the new technologies.” — editor and publisher


Read more about the survey and the responses on Designers & Books article: Part 1 of an exclusive Designers & Books survey.

Maria Papaefstathiou

VISUAL DESIGNER since 1996 and blogger since 2010. Living in Athens, Greece. She has been focusing her research on poster design and particularly on social poster design and portrait design. Her main poster project is a series of posters celebrating great personalities of traditional and popular culture in Greece and Jamaica. These include actors, singers, musicians, poets etc. This is an ongoing project. “I believe that design is a powerful tool that we designers can use to spark enthusiasm, change mindsets and bring positive actions to our world and our culture”. FOUNDER AND EDITOR OF GRAPHICART-NEWS.COM BLOG. She carefully curates high-quality designs, illustrations, and art, from all over the world that will teach and provoke other designers. Many consider her blog to be an exceptional educational tool. CO-FOUNDER OF THE INTERNATIONAL REGGAE POSTER CONTEST which was launched on December 2011, partnering, the creative activist Michael Thompson aka Freestylee. (