Chronicle Books Turns to Video

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Situation: Chronicle Books is an independent, privately-held publishing house in San Francisco that specializes in illustrated gift books and cookbooks. The company was founded 40 years ago and publishes about 400 books per year, with about 100 of those for the children’s market.

Problem: One day while riding on the BART train in San Francisco in 2005, director of publicity Andrea Burnett noticed that many of her fellow commuters were watching cell phones and iPods. That “Ah-ha” moment led her to conclude that Chronicle Books needed to deliver its vast array of intellectual property in video form as well.

“We should be marketing to consumers to maximize visibility of the brand,” she said. Her first effort was to start producing audio podcasts with Chronicle’s authors in the vein of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” she said.

Company: Chronicle Books

Industry: Publishing

Video play: Chronicle is using Web video to bolster awareness of its authors and new titles. Its short profile segments cost about $4,000 each to produce. Chronicle works with Turn Here, a video production operation, to create the videos.

Strategy: Being a West Coast publisher, Chronicle needed a way to create awareness of its products in other markets, particularly New York, and the general media.

Result: The videos created by Chronicle to bolster its authors' profiles have helped the company promote the writers and pitch appearances on national TV, including "The Today Show" and "Rachael Ray." After those appearances, sales jumped. The company also offers the videos on Amazon to give potential book buyers a better sense of whether they're interested in a title.

“That is reflective of our mindset,” Burnett said. “What most publishers do is have podcasts with authors reading and ours are like NPR segments where if the producer is a cook, we go into the kitchen and you can hear the clanging of the pots and pans. It’s like hearing a regular radio segment.”

Chronicle began using those to promote authors for potential radio coverage and as an enhancement to the company’s Web site.

As the Web video revolution took shape, the next step was to migrate to the new medium. Chronicle’s PR staffers met with bookers in New York in January of 2007 for the various morning shows and talk shows on broadcast networks to pitch the most “media-genic” of its authors.

“When I was doing these meetings I realized every single meeting for TV broadcast and ‘Good Morning America’ and others ended with, ‘Do you have video of these people?’” Ms. Burnett said. Burnett set out to change that.

Video was particularly necessary for Chronicle since it’s a West Coast publisher and most media outlets are in New York. “We would pitch an author and I’d have to scramble to get tape to ‘Good Morning America,’” Burnett recounted.

The solution: That’s when Chronicle turned to San Francisco production company Turn Here to produce two- to three- minute videos of its authors to post on the Internet.

TurnHere uses 3-chip digital video cameras and Final Cut Pro to edit. The Web video production house hires directors and editors to shoot and produce the pieces, which in Chronicle’s case are shot in the same style as a morning show segment.

For instance, the video of the co-authors of “I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids” features the two writers, Amy Nobile and Trisha Ashworth, sitting on a park bench discussing the expectations today’s moms place on themselves.

Chronicle primarily uses the videos for publicity, but also posts them on its site, on TurnHere’s and on Google and YouTube. In addition, Chronicle has begun offering the videos to online customers such as Amazon, and

“Sometimes to get a customer like Amazon to make a bigger buy you have to help them with more marketing,” Burnett said.

Evaluation: “The primary purpose of these videos is to land national media attention and national media attention sells books,” she said.

The videos cost about $4,000 each to produce. Most of that money is earmarked for the editing of the short clips. In part due to the attention the videos generated, Nobile and Ashworth appeared on “The Today Show,” The CBS Early Show,” “20/20” and “Rachael Ray” in the fall.

Burnett credits the video as playing a key role in landing that publicity. That in turn led to higher revenue with sales almost tripling the week after “The Today Show” appearance. After the "Rachael Ray" appearance, sales jumped 85 percent for the week.

Each of the five publicists at the company develops media plans for the titles they handle. Burnett now expects video will be a key part of the publicity for all major 2008 titles.

“If you have a big title that warrants spending money, if you are printing 50,000 plus, we’ll do a video for a book,” she said.

She expects Chronicle will produce videos for about 10 or more books next year.

“The landscape of publicity in book publishing has changed so dramatically we can no longer do a compelling press release and send it out to writers. You need a different kind of hook right now,” Burnett said.

Videos by Chronicle Books have helped the company get its authors appearances on national TV, which boosted sales.