Why Would Anyone Go To A Publisher’s Website?

October 25th, 2006 · No Comments
by Kassia Krozser

One of our official jobs is to watch how the various entertainment industries adapt to changing consumer habits. Though there is a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo behind this work, the key factor is that the world is changing, and the media needs to change, too. Mostly, this involves a lot of jumping on the latest bandwagon without a real strategy.

Mobile phones. Second Life. MySpace. Blogs. You name the buzzword, and the publishing industry is dabbling in it alongside television, motion pictures, and music (Penguin UK deserves extra credit for their efforts — one gets the impression that they have staff who have actually used the Internet). And, of course, the industry is trying frantically to make their websites into destinations. Naturally, this is predicated on readers associating book titles and/or authors with publishers.

Let us assume that is happening. How can publishers make the whole thing beneficial from a reader perspective? One way would be to, oh, redesign their websites so they look and feel less like quarterly catalogs and more like places that people want to hang around. Better yet…places that people want to visit on a regular basis.

Publishers need to recall that the web is a series of conversations. What are they saying to readers? “Buy books from us, but we’re going to make it hard as we can.” Okay, if we’re bent on purchasing a title direct from the publisher, this might work. But why would someone go to Random House instead of Amazon? This is a serious question — and it’s the one that publishers should ask and answer.

What makes a website useful? Information, discussion, interaction, lagniappe. Harlequin does a good job with its forums, but the forum concept only works so well. They are trying author blogs, but these feel wonky and not quite right (plus, when we did a random test, the promised author blog did not exist). If you want to force the blog metaphor into existing applications, fine, but make it feel real. Other publishers are trying in-house blogging, but it’s not reader friendly. Often it feels like the publisher is preaching to the choir.

With the exception of Harlequin’s forums, which get downright messy at times (reason one why forums have limited usefulness), most publishing house websites read and feel like they’ve lost a long, hard battle with the marketing department as vetted by public relations and legal. There isn’t an ounce of genuine emotion on these sites. Consumers have long rejected the slickness of these type websites, and publishers should heed their revulsion.

See how easy it is to make your website something people want to visit? We eagerly await the unveiling of, oh, HarperCollins 2.0.

File Under: Square Pegs