Large Publishing Houses Using Social Media

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.


4 thoughts on “Large Publishing Houses Using Social Media

  1. Hi De Nel!

    Marketing grants through the Ontario government have helped us do exactly what you propose in the last couple of years. Although we haven’t created a position, a good chunk of my job is handling the social media aspect for the press. House of Anansi does a fabulous job in that area and has just created a full-time online media position. so the smaller houses may not have the cash they need, but the people there are really savvy as was evidenced at Book Camp Toronto, which I attended in June. Lots of people doing very innovative things on a shoestring. It would be nice to have some of the cash the larger presses have, though.


  2. I wasn’t even thinking about university presses, Clare. But, you’re right. And, I might add, you do a fantastic job of keeping all of us in the loop. I’d never know what was going on at WLU Press if it weren’t for my ability to be your friend on fb.

    I didn’t know about the House of Anansi, either, so thanks for that heads up.

    I think social media, if used correctly, doesn’t have to cost much except for the salary of the person doing it. What I found interesting about the Penguin USA site is that they must have spent a lot of time and money on it, and yet, it doesn’t take advantage of the community building opportunities that s.m. enables.

    Hope all is well in ON!

  3. Hi,

    As Clare says, the Ontario gov’t gives money for marketing, but most other provinces don’t have that, especially NS. If we were publishing in Ontario, we would get almost 10 times the amount of support from the gov’t. Support for marketing and production, digital inititives and author advances are all areas that we could use help with. We do what what we can in this area by sending out e-newsletters, constantly updating our website, maintaining a facebook fan page, twitter etc, but the digital world is just adding more work to people who are already busy and not creating new jobs (in our area anyway).

    Just a note on the interactive website: We did add a blog for authors to our site, but getting the authors to write on it was a bit like herding cats.

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