Social media, streaming, and a wealth of other screen-based entertainment options nowadays are naturally pulling young people away from old-fashioned, hand-held books. Less than 20% of Norway’s Generation Z report reading books as a form of diversion.
For a publishing company, that’s not ideal news. “We needed to think untraditionally,” says Tom Christian Gotschalksen, executive vice-president of Norway’s oldest publishing house, Gyldendal, about how to get books into the hands of youngsters. Curiously, the answer was: sending them back onto social media. “If we cannot sell more books, then we need to find a business model that can support that activity,” he says.
Gotschalksen joined us on this week’s World Changing Ideas podcast, along with Alexander Kielland Krag, an author who penned likely the world’s first Instabook. Krag’s story, which in English is titled This Stays Between Us, and was the winner of the media and entertainment category of Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards, is reaching young audiences on Instagram Stories, where each chapter is told as a new set of Stories for the day. Each day’s story can contain text, but also visual and audio elements.
The novel is about a young gay man finding love for the first time. Though it explores the experience of coming out, its fundamental theme is universal for young adults: “being head-over-heels in love with someone,” Krag says. As he was writing the physical book, he also started writing a version directly for Instagram, just to explore the concept.
And, audiences responded. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Gotschalksen says of the engagement numbers. People watched the Stories for five minutes everyday, and 75% were watching every story for 45 consecutive days. What’s more, they were then going out to buy the physical book, registering more sales than an average book in the category. There was clearly a demand for Stories, and that was a relief, since his first thought had been, “Okay, how are we going to sell books if it’s freely available on Instagram?”
Now, thanks to new content partnerships and ad money, Gyldendal has more revenue streams. The book is on Snapchat; and the company partnered with Universal Music to create a playlist version for Spotify, where handpicked audio excerpts from the story are fused with music by Norwegian artist, Emelie Hollow. Krag writes natively for every medium, because users expect different experiences. In most cases, that means “boiling down” the story as necessary. “It was very much a collaborative effort,” he says. “I couldn’t play God anymore . . . which is difficult for an author.”
Gotschalksen hopes this approach will change norms in publishing that have been stagnant for decades: It’s a brand-new approach to marketing and could lead to being able to launch a book rapidly into international markets. That’s especially important in a small country like Norway to get authors more global exposure.
It may turn out that, for publishing, the way to fight losing consumers to social media and streaming is . . . more social media and streaming. Gyldendal went to the young people and their platforms instead of trying to cajole them over to theirs. “We have a responsibility to bring our content to those platforms, because this is great content,” Gotschalksen says. “It shouldn’t be stored away on a bookshelf.”