1922: How To Market Reading And Books

Would you believe that absolutely nothing about the marketing of reading and books has changed since 1922?

It’s true!

After the break, an article from the above magazine. See how someone in 1922 said the same things I’ve inadvertently wound up repeating in several posts without any prior knowledge of this article!

By changing just a few words — for example, victrola to iPod — this article could have been published today.

Advertising and the Book Business

By A Professional Kicker

Article I

The publishers, the writers, and the sellers of books have for several years been concerned — and justly concerned — with a problem of paramount importance — that of increasing the number of the readers of books. Each of us has had his ideas about the matter. All of us have criticized what is and is not done, and suggested what should be done. Programmes have been adopted. Slogans have been uttered, printed and spread broadcast. Devious ways and means have been devised.

However — and this is a patent fact — the great problem has not been solved; the problem of getting the non-reading public to read books. There is a reason for this, and a simple one, too. The entire trade has studiously avoided recognizing the obvious facts of the situation. A brief analysis will be sufficient to elucidate this.

To begin with, let us consider our market and how to reach it with our bookselling appeal.

Well and Good — As Far as It Goes

At present, with exceptions enough to prove the rule, the book business is advertising its wares through three channels — retail outlets (store advertising), so-called “quality” publications (general magazines appealing to the “high brow” reading public, book reviews, etc.), and the trade publications.

It advertises books to people who read books.

It notifies them of new books. It attracts them to purchase more books. All of which is well and good — and necessary.

It Doesn’t Go Far Enough

It does not teach the reading of books to people who don’t read; it cannot — for many reasons.

One is sufficient. The majority of non-readers of books never sees the media that carry the advertising message. They do not go into book stores. They do not read literary supplements, or “quality” publications. Why should they?

Granting this — and we cannot conceive why it must not be granted — just how can this advertising be expected to broaden the market? It can increase the sale of books in a present market — and undoubtedly does — but all markets eventually reach their saturation point. It is healthily competitive — a type of advertising necessary for any commodity. But the advertising that is needed for the book business is not the competitive type. The advertising that is needed should be conceived to energize a latent market of vast proportions. It should be planned on a scale to put it into the highways and byways and homes in every corner of the land. This sort of advertising can be done.

Examples of its being done — for the scoffers — are to be found in every line of industry, and the book business is not “different” (they all say they are until they try.)

Ask Mr. Wrigley

Mr. Wrigley taught the United States to chew gum. He is now applying the same forces upon the people of Great Britain. They don’t know it — yet, but the British are going to chew gum, and so is the rest of the world if Mr. Wrigley lives and the chicle supply holds out.

The Gillette razor is another case in point. Gillette, in spite of our prejudices (and if you think he had an easy time, read the early history of that product), in spite of our barbers and men with beards that were “different,” has not only taught us to shave with his razor, but has made us neater and handsomer. The daily shave is not the exception but the rule today.

So it is with ready-cooked cereals. They were called “shavings” and “hay,” but while we joked we ate — and once the habit comes, it stays.

These are but a few of the hundreds of articles that, in spite of resistance, were incorporated into the daily routine of the entire nation, by persistent, widespread and organized education.

Shaving daily is a habit. So is being good, or smoking cigarettes, or reading books. The public has just so many hours in its day. Innumerable interests are competing for use during these twenty-four hours. Every one of these — whether automobiles, victrolas, moving pictures or golf, are directly competing with the general use of books. The above articles are particularly competitive with books, for they are carried daily in the consciousness of every one of us; they are highly advertised in one way or another. Books can compete with them in only one way.

Carry the Message to the Market

The message of books must be taken into every home; advertising media must be used that will carry it there. If not, the message will not be read, and that potential market will continue to enjoy the things that at present make life endurable with nothing newer than “Doctor Blinks’ Horse and Dog Book” and “The Illustrated History of the Rebellion” on the bamboo book-rack.

The laws of educating and energizing a market are known. They are certain in their action. They will work for books as well as anything else. Money invested in market will earn dividends just as surely as money invested in plant — subject to the same conditions of proper and skilful use.

Due to constant change in product, it is impossible for a single house to carry on national advertising of books on a sufficiently large scale, since a minimum of institutional good-will can accumulate from the advertising of this type of article. Advertising by the trade as a whole is the inevitable solution. Since books are non-competing, but tend rather to sell one another by creating regularity of reading, institutional advertising by the whole industry, once the preliminary objections and prejudices are ironed out, can be carried on with a minimum of difficulty.

This is the source page:


Filed under Books: General, Marketing

2 responses to “1922: How To Market Reading And Books

  1. This is very interesting reading.

    Two things which stood however.

    1) books do cannibalize one another and are most certainly not “non-competing”. Certain virtues could be taken from this statement but its a vague and potentially naive assumption.

    2) Books have been promoting product related features for too long- e.g. get smarter, learn things, be entertained.. its time books illuminated non-product related features- what is the brand personality of your average book reader? Are they middle aged and poor with technology? Or are they young, fresh and technologically savvy? Where and when is it appropriate to read? Who else reads- Brad Pitt? Kanye West? Or is it your dull high school teacher or your friends boring wife?

    I could go on and on.. Either way, books need a new cover image.

    Check out my blog on brand image for some bread and butter paradigms:

    brand Image:

    brand awareness:

    Stay Breezy
    Ollie W

    • mikecane

      I don’t think books compete against one another, unless they are non-fiction about an issue people must use to learn something — say two different book about programming in Java. A James Patterson novel doesn’t compete with, say, a Ken Bruen novel.

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