Vampires and cannibals find prey online
The Financial Times
Parents already anxious about whom their children mix with online have someone new to worry about – a 67-year-old classical music fan with a penchant for cannibalism and Chianti.
Dr Hannibal Lecter has joined social networking website MySpace, thanks to the marketing efforts of publisher Random House.
Random House UK created Hannibal’s page on the user-generated website to promote next month’s publication of Hannibal Rising, the new novel in the best-selling series by Thomas Harris.
The Hannibal page is the latest example of a mainstream media group using a social networking or user-generated website to market a hot property instead of simply creating an official, dedicated or “destination” website.
As internet traffic migrates from official websites to unofficial pages on the likes of YouTube, Bebo and Xanga, Random House’s initiative follows a spate of similar promotions by film studios such as Disney and record companies such as Warner Music.
The trend reflects efforts to reach young people, who are resistant to traditional marketing channels including official websites.
In addition, because social networking websites such as MySpace encourage the formation of online communities of “friends”, they have allowed media companies to engage with young people on a deeper level.
Fans sign up to the pages, add their own personal details and interact with other people listed as the page’s friends.
“You can be much more focused and creative in your marketing with these sites,” says Eamonn Forde, editor of FiveEight, a music marketing magazine.
According to Mr Forde, media groups were stung into action by the chart success of musical acts that have come to prominence through unofficial pages on user-generated sites – such as the Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen.
Last month, 20th Century Fox invited the MySpace “friends” of Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen’s spoof Kazakhstan TV reporter, to advance screenings of his film. Part of a wider MySpace screening initiative, the invitation followed the studio’s earlier promotion of John Tucker Must Die with a MySpace page based on the eponymous character.
In August, Disney used MySpace rather than a destination site to launch the blockbuster Step Up.
Exit polls for the two teen films showed more than half of the audience had heard of them through MySpace.
MySpace is defensive over accusations of a sell-out. “This is not about commercialisation. It is about increased content,” the company says.
Although publishers have been slow to move into user-generated sites, they are learning fast. As well as Hannibal Rising, Random House has posted pages for characters in its new manga series on the youth-focused Bebo.com. HarperCollins has created its own page on MySpace as well as pages for its books.
Claire Round, Random House’s divisional marketing director, admits that publishers are on a steep learning curve. She argues that they have been held back by the need for a title big enough to make a global splash. “You need a pretty big property to make an impact,” she says. Thomas Harris fulfils the criteria. The sales record for his last novel was beaten only byJ.K. Rowling.
Below the level of corporate marketing departments, authors have become the latest creative community to join the estimated 4m bands making use of user-generated websites. Most writers use sites to bolster lacklustre marketing by publishers.
British novelist Toby Litt’s MySpace blog aims to create a buzz around his latest work in progress, Hospital. Last week, Macmillan author Roger Morris held a virtual reading of his novel Taking Comfort on MySpace.
American Jon Merz published a chapter a day last month of his vampire novel The Courier on the site. The 37-year-old Boston writer publishes his new book, The Kensei, in the US next month and says film and television companies have been drawn by the exposure as well as new readers.
“I’m trying to push my vampire series in as many ways as possible,” he says. “MySpace has 120 million users, and if I am able to tap into even one per cent, I am doing incredibly well.”