Web Sites That Propel Books To Another Level
Last summer, a book retailer on the Lower East Side of Manhattan produced a window display to promote Weekend Utopia, written by noted architectural columnist Alastair Gordon. It was a stunning display—dozens of copies produced a sea of sepia, orange and pastel blue. "How inviting," I thought. This beautifully stylized book by Princeton Architectural Press was not only an instantly successful seller, but laid the foundation for a modernist architectural renaissance. How did this happen? Was it due to the appearance of the book? Not entirely.
Gordon credits the initial success of the book, in part, to the creation of a complementary Web site, WeekendUtopia.com. "The Web site built a prepublishing interest and momentum for the book," says Gordon. "In developing a site, you wire into a target group that will love the book and spread the word ASAP, creating a heightened expectation and sense of something cool happening."
WeekendUtopia.com was launched six months before the book's July release date and contained both selected excerpts and advance praise from such noted authorities as The New York Times and Bomb magazine. The site also included a three dimensional interactive tour of artist Robert Motherwell's house and video interviews of select architects. "We tried to create some smoke by offering something not in the book," explains Gordon. "This gave the impression that the book encompasses an entire experience."
This touches on a very important point: A growing number of book publishers and authors are discovering the benefits of creating an online experience or community around their new releases.
Roland Legiardi-Laura, president of The Odysseus Group, recently supervised the launch of a Web site highlighting the new book The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto (The Oxford Village Press). "Our Web site has created a portal for us to an entire community of people with whom we would have otherwise no way to communicate," says Legiardi-Laura. "It is much more than a marketing tool—it is a platform for dialogue and education." At JohnTaylorGatto.com, not only does the viewer get to read segments of the upcoming book but can also take part in an ongoing, lively discussion about alternative education in a message board. The Web site makes the material in the book come alive by providing the interested reader with a personal experience, something the publisher hopes will be shared with others.
There are additional benefits to developing a book-supporting Web site. Gordon found that it provides an easy point of reference for anyone who is Internet literate. "It is so easy to say to someone, when mentioning the book, that they should have a look at the Web site. This really compliments any author's book tours and lectures. Having a well designed site creates instant credibility among online book sellers, too."
To create a well-designed site a publisher must plan ahead, including allocating the hire of an experienced designer in the production budget. "Make sure it is professionally done," says Gordon. "There is nothing more off-putting than a lousy-looking site."
After the book has been released, the Web site can be used to further interest in the subject at hand. Links to subject-related Web sites, book reviews and write-ups, dates of lectures and other events can all be included. Feedback received from readers can also be helpful when researching future publications.
All things considered, developing a Web site to compliment a new book release will promote sales and aid in creating a community of enthusiastic readers who are ready and waiting for more. It just makes sense.
-Jake Gorst (president of Exploded View, a New York-based new media company)