I recently came across a notice for Penguin USA’s new interactive website, and I must say, it looks good. However, I think they might have missed the point. Dubbed “From the Publisher’s Office,” the website includes vid/podcasts and “looks insides”, meaning a reader can read a few chapters of highlighted books. There’s only one problem— there’s no space for community building, for readers (customers) to interact with the publisher and with each other. There’s a spot for contacting someone via email, and as is becoming the norm, they feature live chats with authors. I know other publishers are trying to utilize various new media to help them promote themselves and their authors, but I don’t think that is all social media is about. At minimum, it’s a bout communicating. Using it as another promotional tool is a big waste of money and a lost opportunity to create relationships with readers. Harper Collins Canada, for example, has a FaceBook group with more than 1,000 members. I’m one of them. And, while I don’t think the forum is super active, the folks behind the scenes are always sending out messages and are often responding to readers. Virago, in the UK, also has a fantastic website–and a fabulous list–but has so far limited itself to more traditional communication tools, such as a forum and email. I think it’s working.
I’m happy that publishers are able to reach audiences this way, but I also worry for the smaller presses who would have neither the money nor the people power to utilize social media in the way it should be managed. I think the smaller houses again lose out. The solution? I’m not certain, but if I worked in a small press, I’d be certain to write into my next grant application at least a part time new media position. The duties would include interaction with readers and book sellers, not only a web site developer.
Our Beyond the Book research concludes (or confirms earlier work) that readers seek and enjoy contact with authors. The data also shows that readers turn first to trusted others–friends and family– to choose the books they want to read. I think new media helps facilitate that process.