The B&N Challenge to Publishers

March 24th, 2008 · 2 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

It is no secret that I hate publisher websites. The vast majority of them can be best described as “suffers from multiple personality disorder”. And I’m not just talking about the fact that publishers can’t figure out who the target audience of their site is. Visiting a publisher site means being subjected to bad design, bad search, and — yes — bad content. Not a single one of these is forgivable.

Are you just serving up the same old book blurb they can get anywhere else with less hassle?

I imagine that most of the industry is working frantically to correct these problems. More than a few of you think it’s a technology problem (it’s not) while some of you genuinely get that it’s a fundamental shift in how business is done. But if you’re still addressing issues that are so 1990s, when will you get around to 2008?

Yes, I’m talking about your audience. Today, you don’t want to offend the booksellers; yet, today, the booksellers are grabbing your territory. Barnes & Noble is once again leveraging in-house publishing resources. This time, they’re doing it with micro-content. This isn’t a small incursion, old classics being reprinted with new covers. This is a major foray into 21st century content publishing.

If you’re a non-fiction publisher, you’re doing a lot of forehead-smacking and scrambling. Barnes & Noble is not only owning the content, they’re establishing themselves as the resource for “how to” information. The good news is that they’re competing with a lot of other online sources for this kind of info; the bad news is that they’re targeting your audience on multiple levels. Content that you have buried in a full-length, full-price book will be for sale as a laminated one-sheet.

And the same content will be free. B&N is rightly betting that the audience for free, ad-driven content is different than the audience who chooses to purchase a well-formatted, full-color guide or chart.

The success of (Latin for “how-to-dot-com”) is dependent on a large number of factors, including the quality of the content and the findability of the content. Not only does this content need to be digested and regurgitated by Google — in accordance with the completely random search criteria created by ordinary people — but it also needs to be B&N’s own search engine.

And, dear publishers, here is a well-known secret: the Barnes & Noble search engine ain’t all that great. Amazon’s is actually better, and we know that Amazon has a tough time returning relevant search results. Don’t preen — you’re not doing so hot in the search department, either.

Of course, what happens should your potential customers find what they seek when they come to your website? Are you offering enough content to answer a question…or are you just serving up the same old book blurb they can get anywhere else with less hassle? Are you providing resources to keep that customer on your site and to — maybe — entice him or her to purchase a book? Can they get enough information from Google to know that you’re selling a book with just the answers they seek?

Are you making it easy to get the content now, while the question and need for the answer is fresh, or does your customer have to wait three days to find out how many comedians it takes to screw in a lightbulb? Basically, are you willing to own this customer or are you going to push key components of your business into the Irrelevant Box in order to maintain your old school publishing model?

Not an easy question to answer, but it’s the question you have to address. If it helps, different people search for information in different ways. It’s not either/or with booksellers, it really is either/and. Someone searching for answers online isn’t likely to make a trip to the bookstore his or her next move — more likely, it’s another website that is the destination.

So your challenges for the next few months are not about creating the social as much as creating compelling, usable, findable content. And, yes, deciding who your customers are, then catering to them.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

2 responses so far ↓

  • Theodore P. Savas // Mar 24, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    What an outstanding and thought-provoking post.

    We try (and occasionally succeed) in catering to our niche web users and customers. In our spaces–military and occasionally general history–readers demand content, which includes interviews with authors, sample maps, reading guides, excerpts, and occasionally original articles. The upshot is longer web browsing, more new and repeat web browsers, and (surprise) a better click-to-purchase ratio.

    Keep up the good work.

    Theodore P. Savas
    Savas Beatie LLC
    989 Governor Dr., Suite 102
    P.O. Box 4527
    El Dorado Hills, CA 95762
    916.941.6896 (phone
    916.941.6895 (fax)

  • | Stop Press for March 25th // Mar 25, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    […] The B&N Challenge to Publishers | Booksquare – “Visiting a publisher site means being subjected to bad design, bad search, and ? yes ? bad content. Not a single one of these is forgivable.” […]