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Best Practices From 2005: Why Publishers Should Engage Readers

14228014417_998aa06726_kTwo related articles which crossed my desk this week have convinced me that the publishing industry has gone mad and wants me to join them in Bedlam.

In the most unlikely of coincidences, Digital Book World and The Bookseller have each decided that the time was ripe to proclaim that publishers should engage with readers.

From The Bookseller:

“Direct to consumer” is not about selling books through your Web site.

Rather, it is a philosophy that puts your consumer, the reader, first and foremost in each and every activity that the business undertakes. That might seem straightforward enough, but with decades of complex author, agent and retail agreements piling up — not to mention territorial licensing, franchise deals and the like — readers may have taken a bit of a back seat in publisher corporate strategy.

Publishers must recognize that they are brand owners

They are the gatekeepers standing between fans and the authors and stories they love.

  • Ask the average reader who their favourite author is and you get a clear-cut answer (or two, or more!).
  • Ask who publishes that author and you see where the branding loses focus.

From DBW:

Let’s face it: most readers never visit publishers’ sites. And if they do, they don’t find many good reasons to return. That’s because the typical publisher’s site is covered with dozens of images showing frontlist releases, current bestsellers, author listings and some lame ads to join a boring mailing list.

In other words, a publisher’s site feels like an inferior online store. Yet if it were in fact a good online store, the retailers would get upset. It’s a bit of a catch-22, which is why most publishers’ sites work against themselves.

Is there a better approach to take? Yes. Mimic the news sites and focus on offering compelling content rather than just selling product.

So publishers should engage with readers?

That’s a great idea – for 2005, when most industries had already figured out that they need to develop and maintain an online brand presence.

Seriously, folks, this should not be a hot discussion topic in 2015 (it was DBW’s featured article on Tuesday). It should be a standard business practice. It should be one of the reasons you hire a good marketing person (or perhaps attend that marketer’s webinar).

The only notable detail about these pieces is how they show that the book publishing industry is frighteningly slow at adapting to the changing times. While individual publishers have long engaged with readers (Baen has had a webforum since the turn of the millennium) the industry as a whole is moving at a glacial pace.

This is a problem, folks, because:

  • We live in a time when the internet landscape changes on a fundamental level every six months or so.
  • At the same time, the publishing industry is excited about ten year old ideas.

This does not bode well for said industry’s long-term survival.

image by Mack_L

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fjtorres August 26, 2015 um 10:58 am

Even worse: they are *bad* 10 year old ideas.

Seriously, the publishers are brand owners? Only in the sense that they might own their authors.

With rare genre exceptions, readers follow authors not imprints, much less publishers.

The biggest problem corporate publishing is *not* dealing with is their content acquisition; they keep fretting about downstream issues while the real existential threat to their business model is upstream.

Nate Hoffelder August 26, 2015 um 11:38 am

This is true. But I didn’t want to hit them twice in a single post.

I thought it enough to point out that the emperor had no clothes. I decided against pointing out that the clothes were ugly, too.

Ed Bear August 26, 2015 um 11:26 am

It depends on the publisher. Baen Books has been engaged for the past fifteen years, including selling eBooks since December 1999. They’ve got forums "Baen’s Bar" and and a website that’s a buyer’s dream. The "Big List" publishers might be cutting their own throats, but the industry will survive. Publishers that act like they own their customers will not.

fjtorres August 26, 2015 um 3:05 pm

Sure, BAEN has a brand.
(How many books do they publish in a year?)
They also had to change their business to accomodated downstream ebook retailers.

Harlequin has a brand, too, but it didn’t protect them from the changing marketplace. Torstar dumped them as soon as the cash cow got skinny.

DavidW August 26, 2015 um 3:37 pm

Tor is the only one I’ve seen that has a great website. I’m sure there are others, but most of what I’ve seen are just galleries of book covers.

Thomas September 29, 2015 um 8:18 pm

I work for a big publisher, whose website I hate, and have started a small press.

It is crazy to me that publisher websites aren’t just a constant stream of author content, it’s all there ffs!

I am planning on adding a forum with activities in the future, and until we get authors we will be trying to pump out content like book reviews and opinions. It’s qutie hard to do with limited time/money!

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