A Tale of Two Sites: New PRH U.K. Site Draws Consumers into Conversations Around Books, Where U.S. is More Retail-Minded
Last week Penguin Random House U.K. announced the launch of a new direct-to-consumer site that combines the content from its best-known brands, Ladybird, Puffin, and Penguin. The new site comes a little less than a year after Penguin Random House relaunched its U.S.-based website, with the goal of becoming a destination for readers and a platform for book discovery. And, despite living under the same Bertelsmann/Pearson umbrella, there is a distinct difference between the two platforms.
The U.K. site puts content about books and authors front and center, while the U.S. site makes its catalog of titles the focal point. The U.S. visitor must dig a little deeper to find author interviews and original book recommendations, which are less abundant than on its sister site. More importantly, PRH U.K. creates content that places books in a wider conversation so that anyone, not just fans of a particular genre or author, could find a title interesting and worth a deeper dive. In my opinion, the PRH U.K. site is delivering a better website experience for consumers, and I hope that the PRH U.S. site follows suit.
A great example of a book put in context for a wider audience is an interview promoted at the top of the PRH U.K. homepage, featuring author Julian Barnes and cover designer Suzanne Dean. The interview delves into the creation of the cover of Barnes’ new novel The Noise of Time and explores the creative process behind a book cover. As a consumer who knows very little about the cover design process, I was immediately drawn to this story and discovered a book that I probably never would have found otherwise.
As I dug deeper into the interview, I realized it was a transcript from an episode of The Vintage Podcast. The imprint Vintage Books created this series a few years ago, developing monthly episodes that feature interviews with its authors and book readings. Podcasts play a significant role on the PRH U.K. website, which also hosts the recently relaunched Penguin Podcast, a program unique to the U.K. brand. The podcast series interviews authors like Neil Gaiman and Kate Atkinson about objects that have inspired their books or explores a theme like “memory” and features book excerpts that touch on that theme.
Aside from tapping into a wildly popular audio medium, PRH U.K. is smart to use podcasts to put its titles and authors into a wider conversation. Book reviews can be interesting to some, especially if it’s about an author or series the consumer already cares about. But what’s the best way to attract a broader reading audience? The answer is to tie books and authors to themes anyone can relate to, like “inspiration,” “back to school,” or “funny people,” all of which are topics the Penguin Podcast discusses through the lens of PRH titles.
I could go on about the site and discuss its feature “Five Books,” in which authors discuss five books that inspired their writing, or its “Extracts” section, which features first chapters of books, but I think you get the picture. All of this original content that lives around the authors and their work enriches the user experience, keeping consumers on the site longer, and increasing the chances of a newsletter sign-up or even a purchase. Plus, all of this content boosts discoverability. New users are more likely to find the site due to improved SEO and the increased likelihood of content being shared on social media.
Of course, original content takes a significant amount of time and money. But I bet that PRH U.K. will reap the benefits from its new site before 2016 comes to a close and I’m sure we’ll soon see similar features emerge on the U.S. site.
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.