Simon & Schuster Mobilizes YA Fandom with Original Content & Free Ebooks on Riveted
In June 2009 Simon & Schuster created a social networking site for teens, akin to a Facebook for books. The site was called Pulse It, an extension of the Simon Pulse young adult imprint, which encouraged readers to write reviews of Pulse titles, create profiles, and discuss their favorite reads with other users. Over the years Pulse It has undergone a number of iterations, but it’s recent rebranding as “Riveted” represents the most drastic change of course for the site, explains associate director of digital marketing Matt Pantoliano. Along with embracing a more mobile-friendly design, the latest version of the YA hub makes original content a big focus, reflecting a growing trend within the industry to boost book discovery and sales through content marketing.
Riveted launched on February 10th, ditching the expensive backend management required to support Pulse It’s social features and doubling down on original content. “For us, the content is so important. YA readers want to know what the book is about. They want to know the story behind it. They want to know why the author wrote it,” explains Lucille Rettino, VP director of marketing for Simon & Schuster children's division. In particular, adds Pantoliano, YA readers are incredibly passionate about their fandom and are eager to read and share content about the books they love. “All the back-story and the inside and outs of the book, that's a huge interest to the YA community,” says Pantoliano.
Placing Original Content Front & Center
In order to harness this enthusiasm among its YA readers, Simon & Schuster has enlisted about 15 in-house staff from across its children’s publishing division to write and edit original content for the site, called on authors to contribute original posts, and reached out to the YA blogosphere for submissions. “That was one of the biggest things that the YA community, the bloggers specifically, were excited about. So we’ve already gotten a lot of people submitting ideas. That’s pretty exciting for us,” says Pantoliano.
The goal of Riveted is to help YA fans find their next read, says Rettino. And a big part of that mission is providing free, full ebooks and ebook excerpts at the top of the homepage. Rettino adds that offering free reads helps expand Simon & Schuster’s email list. In order to access the titles, users must provide their email address to make an account on the site, or log in through a social media account. Full ebooks and excerpts are listed on the site for a limited time and rotate as new release dates approach.
“It’s also a great way for us to introduce back list titles and for us to introduce firsts in a series,” says Rettino. “Teens are great. Teens will read something [digitally] and then want the physical book to put on their bookshelf. So we don't see the [limited-time,] free ebooks cannibalizing sales. In fact, we see them helping.”
Equally important to helping readers discover new titles is Riveted’s video content. Videos like the #TMIBingeRead series encouraged site visitors to binge read books from Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series over the course of a week in anticipation of Clare’s latest title Lady Midnight which was released on March 8th. The series smartly encouraged social media participation, posting trivia questions about the books and offering various Immortals-themed giveaways to Riveted’s social followers. Pantoliano says that the Riveted team is in the process of planning similar binge read videos in the near future.
Designing for a Mobile Audience
Along with free reads and original video content, the new site places a greater focus on the mobile reading experience. According to Pantoliano, about 55% of Riveted’s visitors come from mobile devices, and most of those devices are smartphones as opposed to tablets. “When we did this relaunch, creating it with a responsive design that worked well for mobile was a priority. The previous version was optimized for mobile as well, but it didn't work as smoothly and efficiently as it does right now.”
Some of the Riveted’s new features were the result of lessons learned from other consumer-facing sites launched under the Simon & Schuster umbrella, like Glommable Off the Shelf, and XOXO After Dark. Pantoliano says that Simon & Schuster’s digital division plays an important role in disseminating these lessons. “We have a meeting once a month where representatives from each of our verticals get together and we use it as an opportunity to talk about what's working and what's not,” says Pantoliano. He explains that these meetings often point to the type of content that effectively engages new readers. Lists, for example, can drive significant traffic and point readers towards a purchase, says Pantoliano. “We have the data to back that up based on what's happening on our other verticals.”
Rettino emphasizes that although Riveted is driving books sales and helping Simon & Schuster grow its audience, traditional marketing and sales channels are still important. She says that Riveted and sites like it will not replace the bookstore, but rather these consumer-facing sites are a part of the same customer acquisition funnel. “The reader saw this book at a teen festival, then saw a piece on Riveted, and then walked into a Barnes & Noble and saw that book at the front of the store,” explains Rettino. “All of those touch points are important for selling the book.”