A Book Club of Billions: 52 Ways to Die in a Cave and Other Lessons in Social Media Marketing

07/14/2010 10:58 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Several months ago, one of the web measurement companies released a report that showed that Facebook had surpassed Google as the number one driver of traffic to major news and entertainment portals like Yahoo and MSN (13% vs. 7%). This news got some, but not widespread, pick-up. I thought it was huge. I mean, even discounting for a margin of error, the data showed the incredible power of the friend recommendation -- not only for traffic, but ostensibly, for sales.

It's clear that social sharing of news and video content has become common practice; I frequently recommend articles I read on,, etc. to my friends on Facebook and Twitter. Same with YouTube videos and blogs. But the social sharing of books and other long-form written content is still very new and we're only just beginning to see what's possible.

Let me share two of the many publisher examples of creative social media marketing on Scribd (next up: author examples!). Hopefully this will give you some great fodder for "thinking outside the book."

Random House 'Diggs' Supplemental Material
A great out-of-the-book promotion example is what the Random House marketing team did in prep for the June 15 release of James M. Tabor's Blind Descent, which follows two of the world's premier cavers as they race to discover the deepest places on Earth. About a month before the release of the book (now a New York Times bestseller and book of the month), Random House published a two-page document on Scribd titled "52 Ways to Die in a Cave."

The first page was literally a list of, well, 52 different ways one could die in a cave. Like #14's strangulation in vertical gear or #42's asphyxiation by methane. The second page included an image of the book cover, a link to the book's web page and the release date.

The "52 Ways to Die in a Cave" document has been read more than 55,000 times, "Liked" more than 200 times and has been "Digged" (Dugg?) more than 200 times. Even BoingBoing wrote about it, using the document title as the title of the post:

Towards the end, it got to the point where somebody was cheating the Reaper every other page or so... In fact, author James Tabor was able to come up with a list of 52 different ways deep caving could kill you--and that's with lumping all "incapacitating injuries" into one entry.

Here's the actual doc, which you can see is so incredibly, brilliantly simple:

52 Ways to Die in a Cave

The Value of Free
Marijuana is Safer is another great example. The book, by niche publishing house Chelsea Green, was released in full and for free a few months ago on Scribd. Because Scribd users actively shared their reading recommendation with friends on Scribd, Facebook and Twitter, the book was read more than 100,000 times and downloaded more than 11,000 times. In just two days.

The publisher and authors decided to make the backlist title available for free because their main objective was to get the message (legalizing marijuana) out to as many people as possible, to spark discussion and to connect directly with readers on the subject. Done, done and done. Here's what Chelsea Green had to say on Huffington Post:

We were immediately slammed with disappointed readers when the promotion concluded... Sales spiked, our website traffic was at its highest in months, it was a huge success for a small niche publisher in White River Junction, Vermont. And as author Steve Fox said 'This is in no way the end...'"

What's more, Chelsea Green used the momentum from Marijuana is Safer to draw attention to their current book promotion, Not One Drop, which they're also making available for free to encourage donations for the Gulf oil spill relief efforts.

These are only two of the many, many examples of how publishers and authors are using Scribd to take advantage of what's so great about the web for book marketing. Go to to get started today if you don't already have an account, or read for ideas. If you have an account, what are you waiting for? Start getting creative!