If 2015 is going to be the year that the major trade publishers finally start engaging with readers Penguin Random House is off to a start.
The USA's largest trade publisher launched a new website today which combines all of the books published by all Random House and all Penguin imprints into a single site.
The site avoids divisions along imprint lines in favor of organizing the books by category, genre, and other natural schema. There are book specific pages with details and links to online bookstores and ebookstores, and you can also find a book blog called The Perch, which will publish "“shareable reading challenges, book bingo, historic highlights and frequent peeks behind-the-scenes at our company," according to this morning's press release.
I've spent a few minutes with it, and when the site was operational it wasn't bad. It was much more functional than the embarrassment to web development which HarperCollins' website continues to be.
But the PRH site has been down for the past hour or so, so I'm not sure that I should make any statements about its quality. Edit: And now it's up again.
That said, I don't see how it's going to live up to DBW's claim that the site will add in consumers discovering books. This doesn't strike me as the type of site I would visit unless I already knew that a book I am looking for was a PRH title. I don't see anything that would lead me to discover a book which I didn't already know about.
I also don't see why I would come here to discover a book rather than go to a book blog, social network, or forum. On those sites, I will get all sorts of independent recommendations, while on the PRH site I'm going to be hand-fed marketing material developed by Penguin Random House.
To be fair to PRH, I'm not criticizing the site so much as I am criticizing the kool-aid drinking publishing industry news coverage which tries to make the new site more than it is.
As a place to hang Penguin's hat, the site is well-made and much better designed than its predecessors. But as I sit here using the site, I do not see how it will function differently from its predecessors.
While the new site was down, I spent some time browsing the archived copy of the old Random House site in the Wayback Machine. It looked different but filled all of the same functions: it displayed Random house titles, linked to bookstores, promoted the books with editorial content, and did pretty much what you would expect a publisher website would do.
Unless the folks running the new site have changed their methods, I don't see how the new site is anything more than a facelift.