"There [are] lots of changes going on in how publishers are reaching users," says Tim O'Shaughnessy, CEO and co-founder of LivingSocial. According to him, the company's popular Visual Bookshelf app on Facebook has more book reviews per day than Amazon.com. "Since we have such a large book community, [Simon & Schuster] sees us as a place where they can generate some traction for new releases that are coming out," he adds.
"LivingSocial offered a new vehicle ... that allowed us to very strategically target a number of audiences with a variety of key words that drove our message both to women ages 18-45 as well as fans of the Twilight series and other vampire books and movies," says Zafian. LivingSocial provided Simon & Schuster with a multipronged approach, all built around allowing readers to access the first book in the series online. The site built a personalized landing page for the Clare campaign, including a book trailer and bonus content such as video interviews with the author titled Story Behind the Story. LivingSocial also provided targeted banner ads and a sponsored feature content slot.
"The cornerstone of this 2-week campaign was to offer consumers the chance to read the first book in The Mortal Instruments series, City of Bones, for free, through their web browser. LivingSocial promoted this offer through all of its promotional vehicles including their online newsletter, banner ads within Visual Bookshelf, as well as its Pick 5 app, homepage ads, and sponsored recommendations on their site," says Zafian. In this case, users who picked Clare's books-or similar titles such as Twilight-as their favorites or placed them on their "bookshelves" were asked if they wanted to share this information with friends and were targeted with advertising for the new book. People who opted to read the book online were sent to a custom, secure e-reader that was built into the LivingSocial site.
According to O'Shaughnessy, the average Facebook user has 130 friends, meaning that just a few people adding the book to their lists had the potential to create a lot of buzz. Zafian says, "The viral aspect of the campaign was appealing to us, and that included automatic Facebook status updates for Visual Bookshelf members when they started reading the free book. And that message of course was repeated time and again on those users' walls for their many Facebook friends to see. The impact was enormous and highly measurable."
According to LivingSocial, the campaign resulted in 1.5 million unique page views in the e-reader, 74,000 visits to the landing page, and 420,000 notifications sent in Facebook. O'Shaughnessy says that over the course of 2 weeks, about 6,500 people added the book to their collections, with about 7,400 users having had the book in their collections beforehand. Zafian says this increase resulted in pretty significant results in terms of sales. She says, "We have advertised our books, including this series, in a multitude of ways, using both traditional and more 21st-century methods. It's impossible to assess every campaign's impact on ROI, but the stats provided by LivingSocial and the measurable results we saw at retail tell us the impact was powerful."
"When we started the campaign in July, sales were still very robust at retail [locations] but nonetheless had declined some from the fever pitch of the spring. But thanks to this campaign-and the fact that it encouraged retailers to keep the books front and center-we saw 3 consecutive weeks of sales increases for the series," Zafian explains. "We certainly did find readers going back to start with City of Bones ... and saw upticks in all three titles [in the series]. Also, stats provided by LivingSocial after the campaign told us exactly how many users opened the free ebook and how many readers finished it. We assume that many, many of those who opened [the ebook] but didn't finish [reading it] bought the printed book at their usual bookstore or online."
Simon & Schuster isn't the only publisher LivingSocial has worked with. The company has implemented a variety of campaigns, including a contest in which users could interact with the main character from Philippa Gregory's The White Queen for a chance to win a trip to London. In the case of City of Bones, though, people read a little more than 1.5 million pages, according to O'Shaughnessy.
Zafian says that, for the right project, Simon & Schuster would be happy to work with LivingSocial again. She says: "It was a big spend for us relative to our marketing budget, but LivingSocial offered us great bang for our buck. ... They offered amazing viral outreach that was very targeted."