I recently attended the Book Industry Study Group’s Making Information Pay event (more coverage on pages 7 and 32), where Michael Cader, founder of Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Lunch, offered publishers simple, yet pertinent advice on engaging their audiences: “Leverage the damn book.” One example he gave: His son read a book from the “Alex Rider” series, so Cader went to the store to buy the series’ next book. To illustrate the point he was going to make, he projected a slide featuring the cover of every book in the series. There was nothing that told consumers which book to read next.
The book, he said, “is the [most] meaningful place for you to have meaningful interaction with your readers. … When I finish a book, I want to know what to do next … . Can I write the author? … Is there a club? If there’s a Web site, don’t just give me a URL, tell me what’s good there.”
Cader also noted a problem with widgets: They mimic the traditional book format by including blank pages, such as between the cover and the copyright page. Clicking past blank pages does not engage consumers in the content. “You don’t need to conform to a [traditional] book format in electronic form,” he said. “We don’t think about the world in the way [consumers] think about it.”
His larger message: “Get your mind-set out of the book business and into the reader business.”
Carolyn Pittis, HarperCollins’ (HC) senior vice president, global marketing strategy and operations, also spoke at the event, and HC served as a good example of a publisher trying to be in the reader business. Pittis explained that HC partners with ForeSee Results to obtain consumer data. A recent finding, which seemed to address Cader’s point, was that only 20 percent of consumers were even aware that they could browse inside books. So, HC is making this feature more accessible. For example, its widget can now function within Facebook, so these users don’t have to leave the page they’re on to browse inside a book.
Books have a power, for many of us, unparalleled by television or movies. We grow strangely attached to the characters. I recently finished reading “Water for Elephants” and didn’t want the story to end. I wanted friends to read it, to share the experience. And I definitely want to read another book by Sara Gruen. Fortunately, the publisher was smart enough to tell me what other books she has written.
Amazon takes the role of consumer “guide” a step further. It tells you what others who bought “Water for Elephants” also bought, and what other books you might like. This is the role publishers need to take with their content and their authors. Or, in Cader’s words, “Leverage the damn book.”