Monday, March 31, 2014

Good Design Helps Sell: A Comparison on Sales of Books - Pride and Prejudice

Like many other articles on this site, the title is mildly misleading. Don't get me wrong - it's an article about how sales can be boosted by having good, clean, and theme-driven design + be something that any self-respecting business owner should consider a real and researched expense. The title is there to convince you reading this will improve your business/life/writing career, but it is a headline based off of mildly biased, semi-thoroughly researched analysis with a self-serving intention. If you're still interested, read on.

(My thoughts are bold, italic, and large)

The following is from reddit's /r/SmallBusiness subforum 

Original post by /u/TransitionMarketing:




This screen shot depicts the overall sales of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice based on five different cover designs and spanning 20 years. This provides a clear look at the power behind design, marketing and understanding the current market.

Have a look at the screen shot.

Sales for this literary classic hit a small peak of sorts in 1995, but overall remained fairly low until 2009 when it surged in popularity netting more than double the sales in a single year.

Why? What happened in 2009?

The Great Pride & Prejudice Surge Of 2009

The Pride & Prejudice film was released in 2005. Which means that this probably did not factor largely in to the 2009 releases success. If anything one would have expected a surge in sales to occur within the next year (2006).

Instead we see that four years later, in 2009, demand for this novel more than doubled within twelve months. What was it about 2009?

Every market surge has a history. There may be many contributing factors to a sudden sales onslaught but one can always trace the reasons. This can often be a complicated process and one may wind up with many dead ends before coming to a reliable conclusion as to the cause, but there is always a cause.

In the case this surge in 2009 it is not so complicated. Have a look at the cover that sold so well. The cover couldn’t be the sole reason could it? Design doesn’t make that much of a difference right?

Wrong. It is all in the design. The 2009 release happened to coincide with another novel series which just happened to be gaining steam at the time. Perhaps you have heard of it. It involved an angst ridden teenage girl and her love affair with a vampire and a werewolf.

The Twilight Saga had recently become a huge hit. It had been hitting the theaters and was discussed everywhere. Low and behold if we look at the cover design of the re-release of the Twilight series what do we see?

Well now look at that. Something familiar about those colors and the overall feel isn't there? What an odd coincidence…

Make no mistake. This was 100% intentional and from a marketing and sales standpoint, it was brilliant. The brains behind the 2009 publication of Pride & Prejudice knew their market. They knew the consumer zeitgeist. They knew what people were reading and they moved on it.

Does Pride & Prejudice share any similarities with Twilight? Well the lead character is a girl and Mr. Darcy is a bit of a wolf… but otherwise to lump these two into the same category would likely cause Mrs Austen to roll in her grave.

Yet the design of the book managed to subtly do just that. The four books published in the Twilight series used three key colors and several basic design elements. This is obvious when comparing the four of them side by side as we do in the image linked above.

The demographic that Twilight was marketed to had, had their eyes trained – trained to look for this specific color combination and style, thus any other book with similar traits would automatically grab their eye.

What is more, the design team behind the 2009 version of Pride and Prejudice increased its book size to match the size which Twilight was published in. The result was a book that looked, for all intents and purposes, like it belonged to the Twilight series – one that could sit beside them and not look out-of-place.

Customers would be looking through the shelves of books and their eyes would automatically flicker what they knew and recognized. Perhaps some of them even thought this was a fifth edition to the series.
This is the essence and foundation behind branding and that is exactly what went on. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series was branded with a very obvious aesthetic look. 2009′s Pride and Prejudice printing simply hopped on that band wagon and rode its coattails to success.

Design & Sales.

All too often there appears to be an underlying disrespect for solid design work. Few people – especially in the small business market place – realize the increase in sales that good design will get them. Instead the see the price tag that comes along with it and they balk at it. They cut corners, call in favors, hire rookies or try to do it themselves with all the “free online tools”. The result is shoddy and unprofessional design.

Graphic and Web design needs to be rooted in technical and artistic ability as well and an understanding of what is working in the industry today.

As we see in the example above, knowing the market and understanding design trends play a huge role in design success.

It is simple and it is truth. Good graphic design increases sales. Good design is worth the price.


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Rabbit:
That was kind of fun and informative to read, right? Twilight did something positive for humanity...how awesome! Anyway, I am now going to ignore the entire point of his post for now, and just move on to how you had just read a not-as-subtle-as-intended rant and sales pitch from a marketing company. 

The user behind Transition Marketing's reddit account created this post to rant about the lack of willingness of businesses to invest in good design and offer next to nothing for a logo, and aimed it at the small business owners of /r/smallbusiness to try and create some cognitive dissonance - "Heck, if it can work for a Jane Austen book I was forced to read in high school, why can't it work for me," and "Oh man, if only I had paid my graphic design guy in money instead of tootsie rolls, maybe my marketing efforts would work."

Followed by: "Oh man, /u/TransitionMarketing sure knows what they're talking about and certainly hip with the design trends and stuff - even put up a infographic to back up the claims! I should totally shower them with 100 dollar bills first chance I get."

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Followup from user /u/gogoALLthegadgets

I'm sorry, but a 200 year old classic does not start flying off the shelves (relative to prior sales) simply because they ripped off the cool kid.

Pride and Prejudice was an inspiration for the first Twilight book (2005). In fact, the main character, Bella, even says it's her favorite book. The first movie released in November 2008. That's when shit got really crazy for Twilight. The cover change wasn't to capitalize on Twilight's success; it was to capitalize on their contextual affiliation with the main character - a character that every teenage girl wanted to be.

Also, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a re-imagining of the classic with hot-topic-of-the-year zombie fiction, also released in April 2009 bringing even more attention to Jane Austen's original.

It looks like the screen shot you pulled was from a NYMag article trying to make a point about how young adults are a lucrative marketing segment, so I'm not saying you're at fault here for making the assumption. It would be a better assumption, and more suitable to make your point, if it was a new book with no affiliation or relevance to the "cool kid". At least then you'd have anecdotal evidence that good design could provide a lift in conversion.



Transition Marketing with the Riposte:

First off: We did not know about P&P being inspiration for Twilight or the fact that it was even mentioned. Those definitely would have played a role. Very good point.

Second: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies did come out and would also have contributed (heck even I bought a copy of the Zombie edition).

Third:
Pride and Prejudice was an inspiration for the first Twilight book (2005). In fact, the main character, Bella, even says it's her favorite book. The first movie released in November 2008. That's when shit got really crazy for Twilight. The cover change wasn't to capitalize on Twilight's success; it was to capitalize on their contextual affiliation with the main character - a character that every teenage girl wanted to be.
I would actually take this statement to support our assessment.
The cover change wasn't to capitalize on Twilights success; it was to capitalize on their contextual affiliation
I would love it if you could explain this more? (Not being a sarcastic ass, I am honestly intrigued).
I feel like this statement reinforces what we were driving at. Because the more parallels that the 2009 reprint could draw between itself and Twilight, the better. That they could not only capitalize on the aesthetic elements but also this contextual affiliation was a bonus. In the end, they still used Twilights explosion to their benefit.

I would say you are mistaken if you think that the 2009 reprint was not designed specifically to coordinate with the Twilight design elements. Drawing parallels between itself and the "cool kid" was exactly what they were after and it most certainly impacted their results. I am not sure you could say that the 2009 design (and size revision) could have been any less blatant? And by mirroring the design elements, it acted to draw further attention to the contextual affiliation that you mention.

That said, you are again right that the design was not the lone vehicle involved in this surge. We intentionally focused on the design aspect in this post and left out many other contributing factors (several of which you have pointed out and at least one of which we did not know about). We didn't want to attempt unearthing a mountain but were attempting to streamline the post to focus on what we feel to have been a painfully blatant design trend cash-in which doubled as a primary factor in the surge of sales.
Great comment and feedback!


Counter Riposte:

I figured you didn't know the connection, that's totally understandable. I didn't know the connection until I read your post and refused to believe the premise. lol When you said:
Every market surge has a history. There may be many contributing factors to a sudden sales onslaught but one can always trace the reasons. This can often be a complicated process and one may wind up with many dead ends before coming to a reliable conclusion as to the cause, but there is always a cause.
I decided to take you up on that, to see what else was there. It was about 15 minutes of research. As far as explaining that one point further, I think you said it best:
Because the more parallels that the 2009 reprint could draw between itself and Twilight, the better.
In other words, they weren't making a move on Twilight's popularity, they were maximizing their open inclusion. Imagine the teen girl who just saw the movie then went and bought the book, she's going to love a P&P that looks similar and it will likely spark conversation between her and her peers when they're seen together (or separate).
I would say you are mistaken if you think that the 2009 reprint was not designed specifically to coordinate with the Twilight design elements.
It certainly was. I was simply arguing the chicken vs the egg. More simply put:
That said, you are again right that the design was not the lone vehicle involved in this surge.
And as such, we simply don't know how much it contributed to the lift in sales. Did it at all? Of course, there's a very strong case for that. We just can't know how much.

Good article and food for thought, I just didn't feel the case was strong enough to focus on the design element alone. Just one stranger's opinion though. :)


...Resolution and everyone hugs it out:

Great opinion! We would have actually valued it BEFORE we posted the article! (where were you!?).

Thanks again for the great input. This is actually why we have taken to posting our stuff to Reddit, because people here offer some incredible (almost always no holds barred) feedback.



Rabbit:
I just thought this was both informative and entertaining. Kudos to Transition Marketing for trying to to get business owners to try and appreciate the value of good design... you just kinda came off as frustrated and whiny. :D 

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