Marketing to the Tech Generation

The iGeneration. The generation of 250-character tweets, six-second TikToks, and fifteen-second Instagram stories. Generation Z has an estimated attention span of just eight seconds, but that doesn’t mean they don’t pay attention. According to Dr. Eliza Filby, “It means that Gen Z are fast processors of information, adept at sifting through what is relevant and what appeals.” How can marketers get Gen Z to decide that their books are worth picking up? Below are three ways to reach Generation Z.

Authenticity

Generation Z has grown up with technology. They’ve never known a world without the Internet, cell phones, and social media. Because of this, they know how to distinguish between real and fake marketing. Authentic interactions between consumers and brands are key. Generation Z wants to know that your book is going to create a real connection with them.

Another point on authenticity: Don’t just focus your efforts on ebooks and online material. Library Journal found that 66.3 percent of individuals in Gen Z prefer reading physical copies of books over ebooks or audiobooks. Just because they are known for being glued to their phones doesn’t mean they don’t want a break from all the noise. Being able to disconnect and have an authentic experience with a physical book is important to them. Dr. Filby believes that books are “a retro product with status and authenticity which counters the on-demand digital world they inhabit.” Marketers would be smart to jump on this trend.

Human Equality

Generation Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation yet, according to a Pew Research Center report. This is shown through the way they value inclusivity and equality. They unite behind sexual orientation, gender, and racial equality. Unlike Millennials, they did not grow up with Harry Potter, although many in this generation are still as enthusiastic about it as Millennials are. Instead, they grew up with The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson. The worlds they read about as children spread messages of diversity and courage to stand up for what they believe is right. This has translated into their personal and social lives. Standing behind movements that make a difference is an important marketing strategy—but remember, it has to be authentic. They will know if you are just doing it for show. Look into publishing books with varied characters from all different backgrounds, not just from the dominant paradigm. Representation is an important aspect of their lives because each person in their network of friends and family are unique, and they want to see stories that reflect their real lives.

Trust

Word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to market a product, and this kind of marketing doesn’t have to be face-to-face. Social media is how Generation Z connects with friends and family. Social media also gives marketers a chance to show them new books that they may enjoy. However, the key here is to get your book into the hands of someone they trust. Influencer marketing is a great way to start. It’s a lot harder for brands to relate to a Gen Z-er than for an actual person to relate. Relatability is important because it builds trust. However, being relatable means something different for everyone, especially in the diverse world of Gen Z. Read more about what Generation Z is reading in this article from Book Riot.

Many have criticized younger generations for their inability to step away from their phones and step into “real life.” But this generation’s technological savvy gives them the ability to filter through information quickly to find what is most relevant, and their network of friends reaches across the world because of social media. Underestimating them or treating them like Millennials would be a mistake for marketers. Generation Z is looking for real connections in a world full of inauthenticity. Books have the ability to provide that. Books offer a tangible experience and allow their readers to escape from the screen, at least for a little while.

The Dawn of the Publishing GIF

It’s the dawn of the publishing GIF. If you pay enough attention, you’ll be able to feel it in the air: the buzzing, looping electricity that knows no bounds. It uses ebooks and the internet to infiltrate our homes and our minds, and once there, it stays and lays low, playing over and over and over again until it’s time. And, my friends, it is almost time.

Anyone else feeling this? No? Well, I guess it’s just me, but I’m here to make the case that GIFs are up and coming in the publishing world—and even to go so far as to say that they’ll eventually end up replacing illustrations in digital publications. Everything is coming together to make this possible: the technology for creating enhanced ebooks, the integration of animation in institutions offering illustration degrees, a growing interest in artists’ use of the GIF as an art form, and a growing interest in GIF illustrations among readers—book consumers like them, and when have we ever let down our readership (especially when they’re offering us money)?

Let’s start with enhanced ebooks, or interactive ebooks. These have a wide range of capabilities: they support audio files, video, animated GIFs, highlighting, note-taking, built-in dictionaries, and touchscreen actions that allow tablet users to interact with stories in a way that wasn’t previously possible. They can do all these things, but I’m just talking GIFs in this blog post. GIFs are the lowest common denominator and relatively cheap to develop; if you want a chance at competing with the other ultra-flashy ebooks, an animated GIF is the cheapest and easiest way to do it. If you’re interested in a longer discussion of enhanced ebooks and their capabilities (with a few examples thrown in), UX Magazine has a great article that outlines everything.

So that’s the story from the technical side of things, but what about the artistic side? More and more, schools are incorporating some sort of animation course into their illustration programs. Just read a few of the descriptions in Animation Career Review’s list of the top forty illustration programs in the US, and you’ll be able to see how the lines between static and animated art have blurred. In fact, some illustration programs are specifically incorporating animated GIFs into their curricula.

There are illustrators outside of the publishing world already using GIFs to tell small, simple stories—much like a static illustration, but with the sensibilities and nuance that movement can provide. They publish their work online, but why not collaborate with a publisher and publish it in an ebook? Here’s a short, incomplete list of some of my favorite artists to give you an idea of what I’m talking about: Daniel Barreto, Nancy Liang, harifa, Max Litvinov, and Qieer Wang.

Additionally, there are already some GIF-illustrated ebooks out and about. One of my recent favorites is The Bright Side by Maren Uthaug, an ebook from Denmark that was acquired and published as a printed graphic novel, but whose aesthetic inspired an interesting journey on the part of the publisher. I also discovered one while writing this post, but all I was able to find were the illustrations without the text. They’re for a book called Zły by Leopold Tyrmand, and they’re part of a graduate project by illustrator Karol Banach. Here’s hoping the complete ebook is out there somewhere, or at least soon will be. And of course there’s always Nathan Pyle’s NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette (basically a classic GIF ebook by now).

And finally, why are we doing this? Because readers love it. Whether it’s because of that turn-of-the-century bliss we get when surrounded by flashy, blinky, gaudy stimuli, or because we’re needing more and more sensory input to actually feel something, anything—whatever it is, SnapApp has put my dramatic stream of consciousness into numbers, if you’re into that sort of thing. If not, just know that people like reading interactive ebooks—they really do.

With all of this in mind, all I have to say is, Can you feel the buzzing in the air?

Book Covers by Genre: A Computer Discovers the Clichés for Itself

The publishing world has long recognized the link between a book’s cover image and its genre. A quick glance at this compilation of cliché book covers will obliterate any doubts. There are no shortages of dragons to grace the covers of fantasy or shadowy figures for mysteries. People have come to accept and expect these trends. And now, so have computers.

Last year, Brian Kenji Iwana and Seiichi Uchida of Fukuoka, Japan’s Kyushu University created a computer program capable of sorting books into their genres using cover images as the only criterion. This type of program is called a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) and uses a Deep Learning algorithm to allow the machine to continue learning as it’s exposed to more data.

This software program works on the same computer learning principle as Facebook’s facial recognition software program. The more tagged photos of someone’s face uploaded, the more data it has, and the better it can correctly suggest tags. Iwana and Uchida’s CNN has learned to sort 137,788 Amazon book cover images into twenty genres.

To someone like me, who knows nothing about computer science but a lot about science fiction, this story conjures visions of battles between robots and humankind. However, upon further research, this doesn’t seem to be the case (yet). What this does mean is that Iwana and Uchida’s CNN was able to learn a skill we already knew humans had. The team from Kyushu University was able to both confirm that book cover clichés are more than the ravings of book bloggers and that a machine could be sophisticated enough to perform such a seemingly objective task.

Due to crossovers between genres as well as less-detailed book cover images (such as solid colors), the CNN could outperform a human at the same task, however the computer was able to pair the book cover with its genre at a rate higher than chance. This means that the software works and can only be improved. Iwana and Uchida are already trying to incorporate the typeface of the book’s title as a criterion.

It may seem like this CNN means more to advances in computer science than in book publishing. That’s probably true, however, that doesn’t mean that the publishing industry can’t use this technology in areas such as marketing and market research.

Amazon is the top online bookseller, so running Iwana and Uchida’s CNN on their genre lists and comparing sales data could show connections between book covers and demand. This connection may seem like a stretch; however, an online shopper on Amazon can rarely leaf through the book due to digital rights and ends up making a decision based on reviews and the book’s cover. This gives the cover more weight in the buyer’s decision and therefore in sales.

Elizabeth Hughes, a fellow Ooligan Press student, has suggested the CNN’s potential as a self-check for publishers to make sure the cover fits current trends in the book’s genre before hitting the shelves. No adult reader likes picking up what they think is a thriller only to discover it’s YA fiction.

On the other hand, perhaps the CNN is revealing an uncomfortable truth. Have we finally stooped to mass-market media gimmicks just to sell another book? Has the content of the books become as cliché as the covers themselves? And if not, why don’t the covers speak to the diverse stories within?

Just as humans have coded this machine to learn on its own, the CNN in turn can help humans learn. Perhaps my human vs. robot reaction to this story was too separatist. And someone—anyone, human or machine—please find answers to my questions above.