- If you watch an old movie on Netflix, do you enjoy it any less than a new movie?
- If you eat food at a restaurant that’s thrived for 10 years, do you feel ripped off?
- If you have kids, do you love your older child any less than a younger child?
Age doesn’t matter when it comes to watching movies, eating at restaurants, or raising kids. Yet, in the publishing industry, there is a bizarre bias against older books. Publishers are notorious for focusing all of their staff and budget on new books, while old books are left to fend for themselves. It’s a ridiculous mindset where companies define their titles as either “frontlist” or “backlist.” Once a book goes “backlist” after a few months in print, it’s treated like an illegitimate stepchild.
Yet, a publisher’s “backlist” is what keeps the company in business. A recent financial report by Publishers Weekly revealed that backlist titles can account for more than 50% of total revenue at major publishing houses. Plus, those “older” titles contribute significantly to boosting a company’s profit margins. In light of this reality, you’d think publishers would put more attention on marketing their backlist. But, those are rare exceptions.
Unfortunately, publishers spread this ageism bias to authors who also view their books as old versus new. Too many authors put all of their focus on marketing new books and do little to promote their past work. This approach makes no sense, because readers don’t care about the age of a book. They just want to know if a book is a satisfying read.
How many times have you ever cared about the age of a book when shopping? I’ve read hundreds of books in my lifetime, and very few were brand new at the time. To most readers, there is no difference between frontlist and backlist books. So, authors shouldn’t view their books any differently. Every book is “new” when someone wants to buy it.
I proved this concept in 2015 and 2016 when I helped a 23-year-old book called “Boundaries” hit the New York Times bestseller list for 14 months (read the case study here). Even though the book was published in 1992, it’s just as relevant today as it was two decades ago.
How do you cure backlist bias? Treat your “older” books as if they are new. Tell yourself that all of your titles are relevant and worth purchasing. Then, market all of your books equally to readers. For example:
- Never classify your books as old or new on your website.
- Review your book description text to avoid communicating age bias on Amazon’s website and other retailers.
- Rotate marketing all of your books during the year as equally worthy of purchase.
- Revive “backlist” book sales with limited-time pricing and incentives to create a sense of scarcity.
- Package your books as a series and market them as a connected sequence.
If less than 50% of your annual revenue comes from your “backlist” titles, then you’re missing an incredible growth opportunity. God still wants people to read the Bible, even though it’s a 2,000-year-old “backlist” book. If He eschews ageism bias, consider taking the same approach with all of your books.
One of my specialties is helping authors and publishers revive sales of their backlist books. If you’d like expert assistance, call me at 770-887-1462 or contact me by email. There’s too much revenue at stake to put off addressing the issue.