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Urban fiction outfit teams with Def Jam to sweeten the literacy pill with hip-hop tunes

Publisher Marc Gerald, actor-producer Wesley Snipes and Def Jam record label president Kevin Liles have joined forces on Syndicate Media Group's urban fiction division, [S]Affiliated, which will create book/CD packages blending gritty urban fiction with six or seven tracks from Def...
March 1, 2000

Publisher Marc Gerald, actor-producer Wesley Snipes and Def Jam record label president Kevin Liles have joined forces on Syndicate Media Group’s urban fiction division, [S]Affiliated, which will create book/CD packages blending gritty urban fiction with six or seven tracks from Def Jam’s hip hop and rap roster.

Targeting 16- to 24-year-olds, the line will launch in April in record and urban apparel stores with premiere title Street Sweeper, a redemption tale by Ronin Ro about a ruthless hit man who reforms after accidentally killing an innocent girl. The book/CD packs will trickle out on a bimonthly basis over the first year, with hopes of going monthly the following year. Also in the 2000 lineup are: Antoine Black’s International Assignment Hong Kong, in which main character Styles is sent to Hong Kong to unearth an underworld operation and gets caught up in a web of international intrigue; and Joel Rose’s Anything That Moves, about a 22-year-old drug dealer who quits the biz to become a boxing manager after his friend is killed in a botched buy. The final lineup of music tracks that will accompany the books is still being hammered out.

The multimedia hybrid was the brain child of [S]Affiliated president Marc Gerald, who first realized the niche’s potential while working at Old School Books, a now-defunct W. W. Norton imprint that rediscovered forgotten black pulp-fiction of the `60s and `70s. While Gerald believes there is a generation of urban teens awaiting fiction that speaks to their experiences, he acknowledges that even the most cutting-edge books may not be enough-a musical component can serve both as needed bait to lure teens in, as well as a way to maximize the ancillary parts of the business.

To avoid the taint of uncool, [S]Affiliated has decided to forego book stores initially as a distribution venue. It will, instead, deliver the goods to teens where they live, namely in urban clothing shops and record stores. The line will be stocked in music chains such as Virgin, Tower and The Wherehouse, and will also be featured in POPs at both larger clothing outlets like Mr. Rags and Up Against the Wall and some smaller record and apparel shops located in key urban centers, such as George Daniels in Chicago and Royce Fortune in Los Angeles. Explains Gerald: ‘We’re not selling literacy as a bitter pill, we are selling it as a pleasure that people should experience.’

While hip hop music and its ancillary products have always had an audience, it’s ostensibly only been in the last 12 to 18 months that it has started to truly emerge and be embraced as a retail category with genuine mainstream clout. This growth has been driven by several prominent apparel brands that have developed a market connection with the hip hop community, one of which is Perry Ellis’ PNB NaTioN. In order to fully penetrate the apparel side of things, [S]Affiliated has signed a deal to piggyback PNB’s distribution into lifestyle stores.

As for the best way to communicate to teens that [S]Affiliated books are cool? Enlist the help of today’s top rap and hip hop artists. That’s where Def Jam and other music marketing resources come into play. According to Gerald, Def Jam believes that it’s a cultural ambassador of hip hop and urban culture, and this partnership with [S]Affiliated will allow the label to further communicate that philosophy.

On the digital side of [S]Affiliated’s promotion scheme is an on-line campaign spearheaded by ‘Five Chapters of the [S],’ a promotion running on five Web sites (including MCY, emusic and Def Jam’s own site) that features various artists reading excerpts from the novels. Recording artists Busta Rhymes, Ja Rule, Mos Def, DMX and partner Wesley Snipes have already agreed to readings, and the partner sites will also sell the book/CD packages.

[S]Affiliated has set aside US$500,000 for off-line marketing efforts. On top of traditional direct mailings, the company is planning college tours with Def Jam, a literacy tour featuring The Roots, Com’Ron and Mos Def, and more unconventionally, plans to market the series to prisons. ‘We want to create a literate group of young, black men who are behind bars, to hopefully help turn their lives around, or at least to pass time in a more positive way. With anyone, we want to provide books that entertain, but also with words that will enlighten them,’ says Gerald.

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