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Social Media and the Book Publishing Industry – Doom or Salvation?

Richard Buettner (Richard Buettner) - 14 October 2010

Social Media and the Book Publishing Industry – Doom or Salvation?


Social Media has a stronger impact to books than the movable type had, launched six centuries ago. Social Media makes information producible, accessible and spreads it easily, quickly and without barriers of entry. Is Social Media the paradigm shift which will the publishing industry alive? In any case changes will come. Big changes.

The Publishing industry provides the creative with resources not available to them, namely: production of books, the distribution, the pricing, marketing and sales.

Book Production

Looking at the emerging landscape of online publishing all of the mentioned contribution is available to authors online and seems much more economic by nature than the capital-intense publishing industry – it seems digital content makes production a commodity. Making use of online collaboration and web 2.0 technology lots of crowd-sourced book sites like FastPencil allow authors to skip the traditional publishing route entirely (and control their own promotion) to self-publish their eBooks. FastPencil claims this allows authors to have access to the broadest distribution possible as well as the promise that the digital files will be able to adapt to any eReader that is introduced in the future. Another company called Blio is intending to offer publishers/authors the opportunity to create digital files at no cost that can preserve the format of previously tough-to-digitize tomes such as cookbooks. On top of that as a author you can:

  • Embedded multimedia – inserts web pages, videos, and other interactive content into selected areas of text to enhance meaning.
  • 3D book view which includes realistic page turning
  • Reading out loud: TTS (text-to-speech) or a synchronized audio track
  • Translate to or from English in an imbedded translation window

This is all pretty impressive stuff and can create a user experience much more enhanced and engaging than paper books. Presumably this in the next years to come this will put some traditional offline publisher under pressure.

As part of the digital publishing revolution the way a story of a book is told even is about to change; transmedia is the buzzword here. Readers and writers engage and connect with each other to create the stories which are delivered then in systematically dispersed junks across multiple delivery channels. You can choose between chunks of text, watch a video story update or even, as in Girl Number 9, catch up on Twitter, where you can interact with characters and receive clues and updates. This means basically books are changing from being content sandwiched between two covers and organized by chapter to a many-to-many interactive storytelling. I like that.

Book Distribution

A trend noticeable is distributors or retailers are becoming book producers the same time. AmazonEncore for instance is not just a huge book store and recommendation engine to unearth exceptional books but they also partner with authors through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon.com Books StoreAmazon Kindle Store,Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers. So if you can produce you eBook for free and get marketing and distribution support by your retailer, who needs publishers?

Having mentioned the Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, obviously the upcoming launch of the new iPad (any future mobile device really will turn into an eReader) and the trend to eBook distribution/consumption in general (in Dec 09 the number of digital books sold on Amazon surpassed the paper editions) shines a brand new light on the traditional publishing industry. New technological capabilities enable companies like Wired Magazine (see the video of the iPad version of the magazine below) to raise the bar of publishing (multimedia) content to a new unmatched form.

This will certainly provide the users with a new level of experience of information consumption and will make the switch from print to digital media consumption easier, more tantalizing and much more readers will use it. Especially if you compare this approach to the content you get by using some clunky black and white eReader.

Book Sales and Marketing

No doubt publishers are facing are tough time with pressure coming from authors, distributer/retailers as well as readers. To me it seems the current value chain for publishers is breaking. The landscape of content/books will get a lot more crowded and there’ll be a lot more competition for eyeballs. Authors can self-publish books and utilise social media  and word of mouth marketing to sell their books. Distributors are beginning to dictate pricing and thread the availability of books on their platforms as seen in the case of Amazon vs. Apple vs. Macmillan (see Apple vs. Amazon: The Great E-book War Has Already Begun). Also they have a huge information head start when it comes to customer needs or buying behaviour (they collect and utilise all the buying behaviour data online). Not to mention the ever demanding hunger of readers for  new authors, different formats and sophisticated multimedia content. This is true especially for next generation of book buyers won’t understand why they can’t access any information they want in a digital format.

Social Media and Book Publishers

Book publishers are at an enormous advantage to corporate or consumer brands. They have a vast amount of content, they have an existing, passionate community who want and love their products. On top of that, book fans are author/brand loyal groups of people. Books raise discussions and bring people together…and online can help augment the book experience by bringing the readers into the inner workings of the publishers and authors on a daily basis.

So what to do here are some simple social media ideas to think about if you’re a book publisher:

Become a social brand

Set up social monitoring systems around the places your customers (readers, authors) hang out. Listen what they talk about, find topics which would make a good book and find emerging authors.

Using social media channels effectively

Engage with communities and leverage the influencers. Books are an emotional topic and readers trust the recommendation of peers much more than ay advertising. When it comes to book there are countless vibrant online communities, forums and bloggers consisting of deeply engaged readers and authors. So for new books for example find the bloggers opinion leaders and reach out to them. Do the same thing on Twitter and LinkedIn to create buzz and word of mouth campaigns. Make use of facebook fanpages for each author and create facebook groups around topics and feed them with your content arsenal. Leverage live streaming – now within facebook – and provide weekly live readings of new books/authors. Have your authors interviewed on a regular basis and publish the content on internet radios or video portals.

Create platforms  and a social media hub

The re-thinking of becoming a social brand as well as providing the authors with resources requires undoubtedly social media platforms. The publishers website needs to become a social hub where the authors will be promoted and can execute their own social media marketing. Obviously the authors can use their expertise in their field to produce excellent content for their publisher site inherent blogs for any kind of inbound marketing and/or SEO strategy. Create forums covering topics or authors – readers are very much interested in authors, they want to interact with them and authors have much more to say then what is published in their books. Enable the offline interaction – let your fans know where your authors are, where to speak to meet them in flesh!

Involve the reader into book development process

Monitor the social web to find hot topics for books. Enable authors to produce transmedia content or ask your community what to publish next to help developing ideas.

Create new formats and test them

Utilise technology to empower production of books in different formats and for different channels. Paper books, eBooks, mobile apps, multimedia, etc. and test what works best for which topic or audience. Not all will work the same way but publishers must have the flexibility to quickly produce and disseminate content/books to emerging upcoming distribution channels.

Define the niche

You’ll need for the different content/book topics of your authors different social media strategies. Since you’ll have completely different audiences with corresponding different user/reader behaviour you’ll need to adjust the strategy accordingly.

And then?

When you got your head around that, you can begin engaging in the communities in earnest. Invite your authors into the discussions. Invite other passionate folks at the company. Stay friendly, and stay passionate and you can be sure your audience and community will grow over time.




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