The website fixation

Come across this time and time again where publishers without any real systems seem to concentrate so much time and energy on a website. There always seems to be some grand plan that the new all singing all dancing website will sell loads of books and generate lots of traffic and interest in them. Which will lead to all sorts of … well they are generally not quite sure what the ‘all sorts’ will be but it’ll be good and definitely justify the 9 months; ten of thousands; and lord knows how much management time which should quite frankly been looking at other things.

What gets left behind is the content that is intended to populate this website – all the rich bibliographic information that helps sell the books in reality. No, this stays in odd word documents; a quark AI etc etc on someones desktop (i.e often not even on a network drive where it may stand a passing chance of being backed up).

But what I find interesting about this perhaps most comes back to the theme of recent posts. Publishers are under the illusion that readers buy into publishers and not the books themselves. I’m sure that in reality as most of the publishers I know are smart people they can’t really believe that but the fiction seems to be continued.

It works like this – I may read a review/a friend may recommend etc. then I might do a google search and it probably pick up the Amazon entry. I’ll read a bit and then if it sounds like something I might like then I’ll order it. The second principal buying process (for me at least) works like this. I am stuck in a city centre for some reason (waiting for meeting/train/whatever) and will wander into Borders (the recent reviews/recommendations in my subconscious somewhere) and will browse around and buy whatever looks interesting. I am by the way a sucker for the 3 for 2 stuff if a book I want is in the promotion then I’ll just pick up one/two other that look ok. At no point does the name of the publisher ever into the equation.

So, who goes to publishers websites? Well, a quick straw poll around the table a few days ago reveals that publishers go to publishers websites. Oh, and someone mentioned that they really like the Penguin site but not so much that they had actually bought anything from it. As why would they as they could go on Amazon and buy it for half the price. As illustrated by this quick example – sorry for it being Jamie Oliver (personally I don’t mind him too much but aware he drives some batshit crazy):

Penguin site:

Jamie on Penguin

On Amazon.co.uk:

Jamie on Amazon (UK)

I’m not saying that publishers shouldn’t have the best website they can put together. All I’m saying just remember what its for and the amount of time/money invested should reflect that. ROI! It is obviously important when the site is your face to the outside world that it conveys the right message about who/what and where you are. And the best sites do convey the values of a brand; give you information that you won’t find anywhere else and build a sense of community around the books.

And the biggest failing? Looking at a website in isolation. It is just the method of delivering content. Content that needs to be created, managed and distributed. So, look at the system for this as part of the process.

So, in conclusion:

1) Think about how people actually buy books.

2) Think where you can add value to what is already out there (i.e what is on my site as opposed to what someone can just get on Amazon).

3) Are you currently effectively managing the crucial title information now? If not shouldn’t you be looking at that first?

But, if you could get it right think of all that discount currently given away that you could keep? And for the authors mostly being paid on net receipts would be even better.


Filed under: Publishing

4 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    I must be in the minority then, cause I order from publishers often. Especially when I am looking for more obscure books – out of print, academic publications, etc

    As far as publishers’ websites the penguin site is great. Easy to navigate and if I am really bored I do their quizzes (and then feel completely stupid cause I never get any of the answers right!). And I also ordered a whole heap of classics from their site a while back without any problems.

    In fact, I usually prefer to order from the publisher because they give more personal and friendly service than Amazon and other huge online book sellers. For people not in the U.S., Germany or the U.K. where Amazon exists, it often doesn’t make that much of a price difference. Especially if it is rare book.

    The one thing I think is the most annoying is when they fail to reply to email enquiries. This is something I think most companies fail to do well. Why provide email contact details if they don’t intend to answer and check the mails? I guess this fits into the ‘management’ aspect of a website.

  2. Yes, the Penguin site is great. And is good to hear that you do order from the publisher direct.

    Probably, explained really badly that really my thought was about the number of publishers who concentrate on websites to the exclusion of the content that needs to fill them and also how few of them relatively do what the Penguin site does and are genuinely good/information rich/entertaining places to just hangout. And so many of them assume a relationship with the reader that they just don’t have in reality save for a few examples.

  3. Oh, and I live in Stockholm so not writing from a US/UK perspective not as a reader anyway.

  4. Rachel says:

    It’s true, few publishers’ sites are as good as the Penguin one. And unless you specifically know what you want, it is hard to get anything out of these sites… I guess this doesn’t only apply to publishers, but perhaps they are behind the ball cause of their focus on the printed medium rather than the digital.

    Even smaller magazine sites are pretty poor when it comes to building any kind of rapport with their customers. Perhaps it all comes down to budget, economics and prioritisation. Small companies just don’t have the resources to focus on a website but still want to have some sort of web presence.

    Oh and I realised after I wrote the first comment that you were actually here in Stockholm, not the U.K./U.S. – NY Stories entry was a bit of a dead give-away 😉

    You have an interesting blog… a nice change from all the ‘fashion/food blogs’ that have swarmed the net.

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