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Book Publisher Using Viral Marketing to Spread Word About Its Titles

Stealth Press, a small book publisher based in Lancaster, PA, that sells directly to readers over the Internet, has hit upon a novel way to promote its latest title: viral marketing of an e-book.

The publisher, which specializes in republishing high-quality hardcover editions of horror, science fiction and thriller novels that have gone out of print, hopes to spread the word about its latest title, John Shirley's “Darkness Divided,” by sending a chapter from the book free to people in a downloadable portable document format edition.

The company hopes that people who download the chapter will enjoy the story, go to www.stealthpress.com to buy the hardcover edition and then send the chapter to a friend. Stealth Press hopes that once readers are at the Web site, they will take advantage of its chat rooms, author home pages and other information.

“We're essentially putting out goodwill for the book,” said Doug Clegg, Stealth Press' director of online marketing. “A free e-book sets up a model for peer-to-peer marketing. We're offering a piece of a book that we feel people will love.”

Clegg is no stranger to e-books. In 1999 he created the Internet's first publisher-sponsored e-serial novel, “Naomi,” which went on to sell in both hardcover and paperback. A published author, Clegg has 14 novels to his credit and spent some time as an editor and then a buyer for BarnesandNoble.com.

He noted that Stealth Press sent the John Shirley chapter to names culled from 500 Web sites that were recommended by e-mail list owners as well as from other sites and communities of book lovers, horror fans and John Shirley enthusiasts. Clegg did not say how many e-mail names the PDF chapter was sent to. In addition to the chapter, the PDF file offers information about the author and Stealth Press, an introduction by noted horror author Poppy Z. Brite, and a link to the Stealth Press Web site and purchase page.

Clegg said that while it is too early to tell what kind of reaction the viral campaign will get — the first mailing went out April 29 — he expects to conduct similar campaigns for Stealth Press' upcoming titles. The company publishes about two to four titles a month, he said.

According to Roy Smith, Stealth Press' vice president of marketing, the viral campaign for the John Shirley title is akin to a tried-and-true supermarket promotion.

“It's not unlike the free samples they give you when you walk down the aisle at the supermarket,” he said. “Instead, we're propagating it through the Internet.”

Smith said this is the first time Stealth Press has used viral marketing to promote one of its titles. However, he also notes that the company does not like the term “viral marketing” because its executives believe people equate it with computer viruses. The company prefers to refer to it as peer-to-peer marketing.

“Viral marketing has become a negative term,” Smith explained. “Peer-to-peer marketing is a far better mechanism for what we're doing anyway. It's the perfect vehicle for our type of marketing.”

Smith also said that in addition to driving traffic to its Web site — and hopefully selling some books — the e-book viral marketing campaign for the John Shirley novel will help the company ascertain how much interest there is in this kind of marketing. The PDF file contains links to the company's Web site, which can be tracked and tells the company how many people came from a specific link.

“Of course we'd like you to buy our books,” Smith said, “but we also like you to come to our site and see what other things we have to offer. Even if you don't like the current book we're offering, you can probably find something on our site that interests you.”

He also does not think that e-books are a serious threat to traditional book publishers. Stealth Press, he noted, expects e-books to account for about 5 percent of all books published in the future.

“We've adopted the position that we don't believe e-books will become a majority of the marketplace,” he said. “It's not for the recreational reader.”

Clegg, on the other hand, is a bit more optimistic about the future of the e-book. He said he thinks they will occupy a successful but small niche in the marketplace.

“They will become a healthy component of the book industry,” Clegg said. “I look at them as becoming similar to the audio book market.”

Stealth Press was founded in November 2000 by best-selling horror author Craig Spector. The first two titles from the company, published in January, were Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's “Hotel Transylvania” and an authorized reissue of Robert A. Heinlein's “Orphans of the Sky.”

Clegg said the company plans to publish an early science fiction work by suspense author F. Paul Wilson as its next e-book. That title, too, will be promoted by viral marketing, he said.

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