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Promos with pizzazz

So do you like Kareena Kapoor’s all-glam straight-haired look in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, or would you rather go for the traditional tresses that she sports in Omkara — or perhaps even the curly mop in Tashan? Which of the actress’s many avatars — from nubile college girl to badland babe to size-zero con-woman — do you like the most?

Across the country, women are being urged to click on the look that catches their fancy. And no, it’s not for a beauty salon or hair product — the exercise seeks to promote a new book.

Penguin Books India has tied up with cosmetic brand Lakme for its title Style Diary of a Bollywood Diva, written by actress Kapoor along with journalist Rochelle Pinto. “To enter this contest one has to visit the Facebook page of Penguin India, Lakmé or Lakmé Salon and tell us which of Kareena’s film looks is your favourite and why,” says Hemali Sodhi, vice-president, marketing and corporate communications, Penguin India.

The winners, five each from 10 cities, will get a makeover and one shortlisted person will get to meet the actress. The winner will be chosen by writer Shobhaa Dé and Kapoor’s personal stylist.

Promoting a book in a five-star hotel over wine and cheese is on its way out. Today, publishers lure you with all kinds of innovative prizes — you could meet the character of a book, dine with the author or even get a makeover.

Thomas Abraham, managing director, Hachette India, stresses that general events for a book launch are passé. “It is just a waste of time, effort and money. So now you do events only with a specific impact factor,” he says. Hachette had organised cookouts and food demos while promoting chef Ritu Dalmia’s Travelling Diva and theme walks through Mughal Delhi for Madhulika Liddle’s Mughal murder mystery series.

“Theme-based marketing activity is a growing trend. Publishers are adopting innovative ways to engage with their audience,” adds Priyanka Malhotra, CEO, Full Circle Book Publishing.

Clearly, book marketing is no longer the staid old affair of authors reading from their books and signing copies. “You can only do that many book signings and readings. How do you then extend the promotion period so as to enhance the product life cycle?” asks Shobit Arya, founder and publisher, Wisdom Tree. “And at the same time, you must respect the time and intellect of your readers and shouldn’t really be badgering them with mindless promotion,” Arya stresses.

Innovative methods are in demand because the Indian publishing industry, with a popular books segment worth Rs 1,200 crore, brings out over 6,000 new titles every year. And for a market growing annually at 20 to 30 per cent, publishers have to keep churning out headline-hogging methods for launching books.

“Publishers are looking at new and innovative ways to sustain a reader’s interest and to create a buzz around a book,” agrees Rachna Kalra, head, publicity and promotions, Pan Macmillan India. “And they are offering readers an ‘experience’ directly connected to the books.”

A few years ago, you could count such marketing events on the fingers of one hand. But the events even then were successful in creating a buzz around a book. William Dalrymple launched Nine Lives two years ago with a performance by a Baul singer, one of the characters from his book. Dietician-nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar’s Don’t Lose your Mind, Lose your Weight was promoted through diet advice given to women writers who were asked to follow her diet and see results.

But now the promotional events are getting bigger and better. A look at some of the recent marketing initiatives would highlight the trend. Recently, Full Circle launched The Guest: Talks on Kabir by Osho with a guided meditation session by Swami Devendra from the Osho Commune and songs of Kabir by classical vocalists Sajan and Rajan Misra. Last weekend, Wisdom Tree organised a children’s play in Delhi based on their book Whispers in the Classroom, Voices on the Field, an anthology of stories on schools and friends. A full-length song was composed for the book — arguably for the first time in India. Simon & Schuster India plans to tie up with coffee shops, salons, spas and theatre groups for their forthcoming books.

The methods, publishers say, seek to whet readers’ interests in a book. For instance, the contest for the Kareena book, Sodhi explains, is meant to highlight good looks. “A contest of this magnitude helps promote the concept that everyone likes to look good. The natural message is that you can buy a copy of her book and make yourself look good by following the advice in the book,” she says.

And it’s not just new books that are being marketed with themed events — publishers are picking up their old volumes too. Two months ago, Roli Books organised sari workshops in Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore to promote their book Saris: Tradition and Beyond published over two years ago. “You have to also keep your backlist alive,” says Priya Kapoor, editorial director, Roli Books.

Earlier this week, Random House India had actor Rahul Bose read from Midnight’s Children during the premier of the film based on Salman Rushdie’s award-winning novel at the Kerala Film Festival. “We are also working with PVR cinemas to have reading sessions alongside the film,” says Caroline Newbury, vice-president, marketing and publicity, Random House Publishers India.

There is more in the offing. In January, Hachette India will announce a contest where the winner will get Rs 1 lakh as prize money for a polemic question based on the theme of the book War Ministry by Krishan Partap Singh. Popular playwright and stand-up comic Anuvab Pal’s new book Chaos Theory will be launched by Pan Macmillan at Costa Coffee outlets with stand-up comic acts along with talks. Random House is working with the film distributors of the movie Jack Reacher — based on Lee Child’s One Shot — to promote the book alongside the film when it is released in India later this month.

The marketing initiatives have helped sales. “We have sold more than 5,500 copies of the trade paperback of Child’s A Wanted Man released in October,” says Newbury. Random House ran an outdoor advertising campaign for the book with posters on autos in Delhi, bus stops in Mumbai and Bangalore, along with radio campaigns. “The Amar Chitra Katha scholarship programme that we ran with retail chain Big Bazaar massively impacted the sales of our books,” adds Manas Mohan, Chief Operating Officer, ACK Media.

Whoever said a book was only about reading?