Posts Tagged ‘PR’

Note: This article was written for the London Book Fair Show Daily.
Submitted by:  Susan Ruszala, President, NetGalley (susan.ruszala@netgalley.com)

Like so many people in book publishing, I entered this industry because I love to read. So imagine my delight, when after many years of marketing publishing technology solutions, I was asked to launch a site dedicated to “professional readers.” (Professional reader: noun: Those whose job it is to read, review and recommend books, primarily new books, to consumers). Professional readers are reviewers, critics, media, booksellers, librarians, bloggers and educators, to name just a few, and there are over 57,000 of them already using NetGalley for free to access digital proofs from publishers.

Digital proofs are eco-friendly, fast, and cost-effective
Galley distribution is one of the key publicity and marketing activities performed by publishers and media agencies, but the process of distributing print proofs is cumbersome, expensive, and inefficient. At its simplest, NetGalley helps to simplify and speed up that process by substituting secure digital galleys for print.

Communities of influence are larger than you think
One of the great ironies of print proofs is that their distribution is often limited by budget, and limited to a perceived “A” list of influencers. We’ve often heard from publicists, marketers, digital marketers, library marketers, sales reps and even authors that they’d like to broaden the number of people who can preview their content before it’s published, and that they’d like to know with more certainty the influence and reach of those broader communities. Today’s web technology makes this possible.

The largest segment of our current community is reviewers, comprising just over 50%. Librarians make up 19%, with the remainder split evenly between booksellers, media and educators. Our UK member-base is growing more rapidly as UK publishers begin making content available, and we’re working closely with those publishers to introduce their contacts to NetGalley. We also hope to work with other member organizations as we are with the American Library Association.

Request and invite
New books have a better chance of commercial success when they’re launched into dedicated communities of interested readers. When publishers list their titles in the NetGalley catalog, allowing members to request access, they are identifying and cultivating new influencers as well as connecting with existing contacts.

Publicity is also about pitch: Publishers use our tools to incorporate digital proofs into all they already do for their titles, including pitch emails, giveaways, bookseller marketing, author events, social media marketing and more.

We support DRM (or not)
Despite many industry debates about the pitfalls of Digital Rights Management, an overwhelming 89% of titles we handled in NetGalley last year have security applied to prevent unauthorized sharing or distribution. It’s our opinion that publishers have the right to protect their content as they (and their authors) see fit; but we also offer a DRM-free option for publishers who are interested in making their content more widely available. NetGalley members read on all major devices and tablets; right now the split is about even between Kindle and all other Adobe DRM-compatible devices (iPad/iPhone, Kobo, Nook, Sony Reader, and Android phones/tablets).

We help navigate the digital landscape
Customer service—to publishers and especially to readers—has grown to be a key piece of our business. Though unfortunate, accessing a protected proof on a device is more confusing than it should be. Our team of Concierges is comprised of former book publicists or marketers who understand that a timely, professional response is essential, particularly when dealing with a media contact. With publishers, that same team provides creative examples of how to incorporate digital proofs into specific campaigns, launches new programs like NetGalley at the Library, and helps generate invite widgets for publishers to use when inviting their own contacts to view a title on NetGalley.

Digital is global
There are no boundaries when it comes to information, and this is just one of the many reasons we’re so pleased to be launching officially into the UK publishing market. It’s been our pleasure to work with early adopters like Bloomsbury, Faber and Faber, Harlequin, HarperCollins and Penguin, and we’re looking forward to expanding the number of titles, readers (and local staff) in 2012 and beyond.

Susan Ruszala is the President of NetGalley. Find out more about NetGalley at
www.netgalley.com or visit us at the London Book Fair in the Digital Zone, W845.

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This week has been a busy week. The fact that I just accidentally wrote “Win/Wine” for the headline, is probably an indication it’s a good thing it’s Friday. The fact that I caught the typo is probably an indication I am still sharp enough to host(ess) today’s #FollowReader! (Assuming you’ll all be there to help out…you never know when the tide might turn for the worse).

So, back to today’s #FollowReader. I’ve been blessed to know some very talented book marketeers in my day. As such, I get to hear out about innovative book marketing promotions and marketing projects all the time. Lots of groovy book marketing projects are in the works, and while some may rely on fancy bells and whistles and online components, one thing that all the best book promotions have in common: they put the right books in front of the right readers.

On today’s #FollowReader, we’ll be chatting with some of my favorite book marketing genius friends:

  1. Ron Martinez, of Aerbook, a company offering a unique approach that gives a book its own social identity, plus a linkable web and mobile edition, custom WordPress site, and Reader Radar (providing a platform that connects online conversations around a book).

  2. Brett Sandusky of Kaplan. Kaplan has been around forever, but Brett and the team at Kaplan have some really smart strategies to bring their moving target of an audience and oft-revised materials together year after year. And…
  3. George Burke and Jeevan Padiyar, of Bookswim.com, a book rental company (ala Netflix) who have just launched a promotion that let’s readers choose the book giveaway of their choice (cleverly giving Bookswim a better idea of what kinds of books their would-be customer base are most interested in).
  4. Of course, we very much welcome any and all of you to play along and share your own ideas for smart book promotions. We’ll be starting at 4pm ET, so be there or be square.

    To join this Friday’s #followreader conversation here’s what to do:

    1. Just before 4pm ET, log in to Twitter or whatever interface you prefer. (We recommend Tweetchat, which refreshes quickly and automatically loads your hashtag when you are in the discussion.)
    2. To follow the discussion, run a search for #followreader
    3. I’ll start by asking our guests a few questions, before opening up the discussion to the group.
    4. To post a comment to the discussion, make sure that the hashtag #followreader is in each tweet you write.

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Special Guest Host(ess) Kassia Krozser Leads #FollowReader Chat with Guest Kevin Smokler this Thursday at 4pm ET

This week’s #FollowReader chat will be even more special than usual. That’s because not only will we have a fabulous guest – one Kevin Smokler (@weegee) of BookTour.com, but we will also have a fabulous guest host: BookSquare.com’s Kassia Krozser (@booksquare).

With the combined wondertwin “K” powers of Kassia and Kevin, you guys are in for a huge treat. The chat is largely in celebration of BookTour.com’s relaunch, but is more so a chance for authors, publicists and readers to talk about how books and readers are connecting, and ways to facilitate that connection. If you know Kassia and Kevin, you know this will no doubt be a fun-, and info-filled #FollowReader hour.

BookTour.com's @weegee

About Kevin Smokler
Kevin Smokler is an author, journalist, speaker and entrepreneur. He’s the editor of the anthology Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times (Basic Books, June 2005), which was a San Francisco Chronicle notable book of 2005. His writing has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The LA Times, Fast Company, and on National Public Radio.

In 2007, Kevin Smokler founded with Chris Anderson (editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine) BookTour.com, the world’s largest online directory of author and literary events. Kevin now serves as the company’s CEO, regularly speaking at publishing industry conferences and book festivals throughout North America. In April of 2008, Amazon purchased a minority stake in BookTour.com.

About Kassia Krozser

BookSquare.com's @BookSquare

Kassia Krozser has seen the future and it is good: more people are reading and writing than ever before. She knows that, unlike the dinosaurs, smart people in the publishing business can adapt to changing economics and reader behavior. Kassia dissects this world with love and skepticism at booksquare.com.

Helpful Hints for the #FTR uninitiated – To join the #followreader conversation on Thursday, here’s what to do:

  1. Just before 4pm ET today, log in to Twitter or whatever interface you prefer. (We recommend Tweetchat, which refreshes quickly and automatically loads your hashtag when you are in the discussion.)
  2. To follow the discussion, run a search for #followreader
  3. I’ll start by asking a few questions, before opening up the discussion to the group.
  4. To post a comment to the discussion, make sure that the hashtag #followreader is in each tweet you write.

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We’re not quite ready to put down the New Year’s party favors, so in order to extend the ringing in of 2010 just a bit, we are inviting you to join us for a fun (and informative) discussion with the publishing peeps behind the vlog, “Quit Being A Hooker, Hooker!

How does one explain QBAH2? Well, think Terry Gross meets wacky morning dj zoo crew with a little bit of Andy Rooney for good measure, and you’re getting a vague picture of what it’s all about. Here, I’ll hand the virtual mic to Russ Marshalek (the Jerry Lewis to Brett Sandusky’s Dean Martin), and let him try and explain himself:

(@QBAH2) is the world’s first publishing vlog, and the only publishing vlog with the word “hooker” in it twice. It was started as a joint project between publishing industry vets Brett Sandusky (@BSandusky) and myself (@RussMarshalek) after the former pushed Patricia Cornwell down an escalator at BEA 2009, and we concluded that the only way to save the world of publishing-an industry we both love dearly and operate inside-was to take it apart piece by piece. Quickly realizing that all QBAH2 would amount to was too many truck stop lemonades and fake retweets (a twitter activity we arguably originated), we enlisted the help of sassy Lucy Swope (@LucySwope) as creative director to rein in both our ideas and our alcohol problems.

To date, we’ve interviewed the likes of Gary Vaynerchuck, Isabella Rossellini and Richard Nash in our own inimitable style, and our site-qbah2.com-hosts written, humorous dissertations on the ‘three types of publishing blog posts‘ and various book critiques. QBAH2 is proof that taking publishing with a lot of heart and a sense of humor will be what, in fact, saves us all. Or not. We don’t know. We wrote this drunk.”

So – how can you possibly miss Friday’s #FollowReader? Sure, it may be somewhat silly, but we’ve got some serious questions for the QBAH2 crew, as well. For example:

  • How did they come up with their vlog’s, erh “unusual” name, “Quit Being a Hooker, Hooker?” Is there some deeper meaning that makes the name worth the ire of some feminists?
  • Given the impressive roster of guests they’ve interviewed so far on QBAH2, they have quite a first act to follow. How is the QBAH2 guest list for 2010 shaping up?

  • Will blogs, vlogs, and other forms of social media replace traditional book marketing and publicity efforts?
  • Their love for book publishing is admirable if not infectious, but why do they so love the publishing industry, and why do they fear its loss?
  • What are their predictions for the next 10 years in publishing and literature?

Should be quite a fun and interesting discussion!

To join the #followreader conversation on Friday, here’s what to do:

1. Just before 4pm ET, log in to Twitter or whatever interface you use (we recommend Tweetchat).
2. To follow the discussion, run a search for #followreader.
3. I’ll start by asking a few questions.
4. To post to the discussion, make sure that the hashtag #followreader is in each tweet.

NOTE: TweetChat refreshes quickly and automatically loads your hashtag when you are in the discussion.

If you can’t join the discussion, watch this space next week for a recap of the highlights.
Please feel free to suggest topics for upcoming #followreader chats below.

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The third installment in our Profiles in Convergence series, focusing on book people who are helping to create a happy convergence of the the print and digital worlds, features blogger Ron Hogan. Read on to find out how he won friends and influenced people with his blog Beatrice.com, how it led him to create an event series and writer’s conference, and why he dismisses the much-discussed distinction between first-wave vs. second wave book bloggers.

Ron Hogan

Ron Hogan

RON HOGAN began writing his blog Beatrice.com in the mid-1990s, helping to establish “online magazines” as a viable way for authors to reach potential readers, while working at the independent Los Angeles bookstore Dutton‘s. He maintained Beatrice.com during a stint at Amazon.com and after moving to New York, where he began to build a substantial following for the publishing blog Galley Cat, sponsored by MediaBistro, and to build a freelance writing career.

For its first decade, Beatrice.com was primarily a vehicle for interviewing authors, until Hogan’s paid writing work took more of his time, and he made Beatrice.com into a venue for shorter commentaries on book-related news. Most recently, Hogan has parlayed Beatrice.com into a platform for a reading series at New York City’s Mercantile Liberary, and an upcoming writer’s conference. Follow the Reader recently caught up with Hogan to discuss the launch of his new ventures.

Tell us a bit about the literary events that have grown out of your adventures in blogging. 

I’ve been working on two types of events. First, there’s the free monthly author reading series I’ve been curating for the Mercantile Library Center for Fiction [in midtown Manhattan]. I also host a monthly celebration of romance fiction called Lady Jane’s Salon [in a downtown Manhattan lounge, with a $5 cover charge]. Lady Jane’s serves as a benefit for a non-profit group that donates romance novels to women’s shelters, and through my work on that series I’ve become interested in doing more literary events as fundraisers for different types of non-profit organizations.

How is your upcoming writer’s conference different than others?

My writer’s conference focuses less on questions like “how do I become a better writer?” or “how do I get an agent?” and more on “how can I publish my writing most effectively?” The focus is not just on selling your manuscript, but making sure it sells well enough that publishers will want to continue working with you. Some of that involves understanding what’s going on in the publishing industry, and some of that is about the proactive steps writers can take in pursuit of ongoing success. I’ve been planning one such conference with the Mercantile Library’s Center for Fiction for several months now–the current plan is to hold it in Manhattan in the late fall of 2009–and I have begun discussions about doing similar events in other cities.

What inspired you to specialize in these events?

The impulse behind my decision to launch a Beatrice.com reading series, and then to get involved with creating other events, was to take the enthusiasm for books and writers I’d been displaying online and bring it into the “real world” in ways that could inspire, entertain, and benefit others.

In my role as a senior editor at GalleyCat, I also came to realize that a significant segment of that blog’s audience consisted of writers who were hungry for information about how the publishing industry really works — the more practical and pragmatic, the better. I felt that workshops and conferences would be a good vehicle for that information, and if I could produce those events in such a way as to also nurture local literary cultures, such as non-profit organizations like the Center for Fiction, all the better.

When you created Beatrice.com, did you have any idea that it might lead to paying gigs?

I wasn’t thinking about that when I launched Beatrice in the ’90s, although I did start thinking about getting freelance jobs soon after, since the emergence of online magazines created opportunities for freelance writers. My original goal, when I began interviewing writers, was pretty much just to create an opportunity to talk to authors I admired about how they got to be so good, and to share my enjoyment of those writers with others. Along the way, as my relationships with publishing companies grew stronger, publicists would naturally try to pitch up and coming young writers to me, and those interviews proved to be just as rewarding as the ones with veteran writers.

How has Beatrice’s value to your career changed through the years? And what do you think is the next step for your blog?

Beatrice has always been “useful” to me professionally — it was on the strength of my first three years of interviews that I got a staff job at Amazon.com in 1998. It was on the strength of my first few months of blogging that I was invited to submit the book proposal that became The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane. And it was on the continued strength of the blog that mediabistro.com hired me to help relaunch GalleyCat after its first iteration had stumbled out of the gate.

Until GalleyCat came along, Beatrice was my public identity, so of course it shaped my professional identity (not least of all because it brought me into regular contact with the publishing industry). At the same time, it’s always been first and foremost an instrument for me to discuss some of my most enthusiastic passions, and whatever path my professional career takes, Beatrice will continue to be a place where I talk about what’s on my mind where books and publishing are concerned.

What do you think of the recent debate on the Book Publicity Blog and others over “first wave” bloggers vs. “second wave” bloggers? Do you think it’s true that “lit bloggers” typically write traditional newspaper-style reviews, and tend not to turn on the comments feature or invite conversation with their readers, while “book bloggers” tend to be more community- and conversation-driven and less inclined toward a professional reviewing style or getting paid to review books?

I find that debate incredibly tedious. But I would concede that, from the perspective of publishing industry professionals like Yodiwan (who writes the Book Publicity Blog), or for authors looking to promote their own books, it’s useful to know that there are different types of book bloggers, and that they have different approaches to writing about books — simply as a matter of efficiently matching the right books and the right promotional styles with the right outlets. That’s just the basic professional competence expected of any publicist or marketer.

Beyond that, I find attempts by book bloggers to distinguish themselves as part of a wave or a clique apart from other book bloggers self-serving. If you feel the need to identify yourself as being in the “first wave” of anything with two or more waves, you might as well just tell people that you’re afraid of becoming irrelevant. You’ll notice it’s never the so-called “second wave” bloggers who come out with sweeping statements about how different they are from the “first wave.” And you’ll notice certain “first wave” bloggers have nothing to say about the alleged dichotomy, because (I would imagine) to their mind every minute wasted on this non-issue would be a minute away from celebrating what they believe to be great writing. They don’t need to dramatically underline the stylistic differences between them and other bloggers in order to be successful. The work speaks for itself.

I say all that as somebody guilty of making several self-serving generalizations about blogging and bloggers over the last four years, especially about why many readers came to find book bloggers more relevant than book reviewers. And it would be disingenuous to imply that I don’t actively consider how Beatrice and GalleyCat shape my professional public identity, and vice versa. Ultimately, though, I am less worried about how my blog compares to anybody else’s, and more concerned with whether I’m doing the best job I can do to tell people about books and writers I find interesting.

Do you think bloggers will ever make up for the declining influence of traditional media?

“Make up” implies an emphasis on quantification that doesn’t particularly interest me, and sets up the false idea that all the influence moves in a big chunk from one place to another. Bloggers already influence readers, right now. Whether they’ll do so “as much” as traditional media is less important than the need for authors and publishing companies to recognize that there is no one sure-fire path to influencing readers, and that they’ll need to be prepared to reach out to readers wherever they may be found.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with Follow the Reader, Ron. Before I let you go – just a few quick trivia questions. What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

I’ve read a lot of great debut novels for the Beatrice.com reading series, and I wouldn’t want to privilege any of them above the others, so I’ll mention two debut memoirs that’ve come out recently, Cheeni Rao’s In Hanuman’s Hands and Andy Raskin’s The Ramen King and I.

What book are you most looking forward to this year?

I’m in the middle of Glen David Gold’s Sunnyside, and I’m loving it so far, but I won’t get to pick it up again for a while, and that makes me sad.

What blog can’t you live without?


NOTE: If you liked this interview, you might want to check out the first interview in this series, with Bethanne Patrick, who runs the Book Studio at WETA.org. The second interview was with literary agent and blogger Colleen Lindsay. Watch this space for upcoming profiles of other bloggers who appeared at the blogger signing in the NetGalley booth at Book Expo 2009.

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We’ve all heard the old adage that “fifty percent of advertising works, we just don’t know which fiftty percent it is.” But does it apply to book chatter on Twitter and blogs? And if so, now that it’s becoming possible to measure just about everything through digital analysis, do we have to accept that it’s still true?

Acacia Tree of Live via Hyd-masti.com

Which way to the Acacia tree?

Those were just a few of the questions in play at a recent #followreader discussion on Twitter, which yielded more than a few interesting facts and resources:

  • Many participants testified that they have purchased up to ten books in the last few months on the strength of recommendations on the social networking site.
  • Bloggers Anne Kingman and Michael Kindness, who are Random House sales reps by day, reported that more than 30% of their readers at Books on the Nightstand have bought three to five books based on recomendations on the site and 14% have bought six or more, according to the 252 respondents to their recent reader survey.
  • A recent survey of lit blog readers shows that 56% buy books primarily based on the influence of blogs
  • Mark Evans, who works with Edelweiss, the cool searchable catalog of forthcoming books that we’ve written about before, says that Edelweiss correlates book mentions on blogs and Twitter with point of sale information, and ranks the results.
  • Science fiction review blogs are ranked “pretty decently” on what looks like an inbound link/post frequency count at 42blips, according to @bloggeratf

Still looking for examples

As more than 60 people brainstormed together for an hour, only a few concrete examples surfaced of books whose sales were driven by book blogs. One title mentioned was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - which sparked major buzz early this year with online promotion of the book jacket and title. Another was the crime novel Hogdoggin’ by Anthony Neil Smith — a.k.a. @docnoir — who went on a blog tour for his book and posted the initial results.  

Still, it was a little puzzling that there were so few specific examples of books launched via blogs and Twitter, given the mix of participants, including many book bloggers and a healthy number of independent publishers and booksellers, a couple of publishing software developers, and at least one sales rep.

Reframing the question

One strand of the blogger reaction to the discussion topic was articulated by @Writing_Is_Fun: “But isn’t Twitter/blogging just people conversing? Do we need to quantify it, or turn it into a business model?” Meanwhile, those representing the publisher point of view, like Random House sales rep Ann Kingman, were more likely to point out that “buzz is great, but we need sales through the register.”

Some wondered if it would be more productive to reframe the question: “How can Twitter/blogging create more influence?” asked @gregpincus. “Has anyone figured out how to tell if a blog or Twitter campaign is successful?” added NetGalley’s @ftoolan.

Scroll down for some of the answers that surfaced during the session.

Enter Hugh MacLeod’s amazing blog-driven book launch

The same week we had our discussion, I noticed that Ignore Everybody by popular blogger and Twitterer Hugh MacLeod had hit Amazon’s Top 25. A quick call to Maureen CoIgnore Everybody by Hugh MacLeodle, his publicist at Portfolio (Penguin’s business imprint), confirmed that its rise was based primarily on blog and Twitter reviews. (Two weeks later, as I write this, the book is at #467 – not bad at all). 

MacLeod is a comics artist who created his website in 2001 as a way to sell his art (e.g. cartoons sketched on the back of business cards, and larger prints), and now attracts more than a million visitors a month. On Twitter, MacLeod has 17,474 followers as @gapingvoid.

Portfolio (Penguin’s business imprint) printed an extra hundred galleys to send to bloggers about a month before publication, and many responded with reviews and interviews with MacLeod around the book’s June 11 publication date, said Cole.  “A lot of the buzz online has been totally organic, and not because of anything we did – just people who picked up the book or pre-ordered it because they’re big Hugh fans,” she said. “It really helped that Hugh was already well known and respected on the blogs and Twitter.” The only print media the book had received was a brief mention in a USA Today roundup about 10 days before publication.

The answer is out there

So clearly, there are examples of Twitter and blogs driving sales out there. We just have to find them. If you have any you’d like us to  know about, please leave a comment below.

Meanwhile, let’s get back to the highlights of our Twittersation, which pointed the way to how it might be possible to increase –and measure — the impact of blogs and Twitter going forward.

Commercial impact of blogs and Twitter:

  • @PhenixandPhenix: A lot of the value with online buzz happens when you hit a tipping point. That’s why timing is important
  • @PhenixandPhenix: Blog/Twitter buzz attracts traditional media coverage. Producers, journalists are tuned in.
  • @MoriahJovan: I see a direct correlation between my Twitter presence and sales.
  • @DonLinn: We monitor hits in real time when I do Shameless Book Pimping [on Twitter]. Hits spike a little for short time.
  • @Deb WorldofBooks: I’ve seen one-day spike pushes on Twitter that were very successful, and ones that weren’t.
  • @BethFishReads: At least Twitter talk moves discussion beyond one’s blog readers and has greatly increased audience.
  • @jimnduncan: Twitter works I think if you can get book mentioned by the right Twitterer. Hard though since most folks follow and don’t tweet.
  • @WheatmarkBooks: I always recommend using Twitter to drive traffic to blog to drive traffic to book sales. It CAN work.
  • @DebWorldofBooks: If I see an interesting book on multiple blogs, I’ll tend to go buy them.
  • @npilon: Seems to me that blogs are never going to generate Oprah “big hits,” but increased sales across the board
  • @Wordlily: What about getting 100 blogs (cross-section) to share click-throughs to purchase the same book?
  • @mawbooks: But you’d need a heck of a lot of sales to make it profitable for 100 blogs.
  • @KatMeyer: In some cases (where blog is not BOOK blog, but topical non-fiction-related blog), a niche review can be huge, e.g. in gardening
  • @@LizB: True test is to pick older title and see what happens if buzz is made.
  • @susanmpls: When our books went live in Google Book Search, our backlist sales doubled PER BOOK. If book sold 4 units one year, sold 8 post GBS.
  • @susanmpls: For our books, academic and librarian list serves result in both desk copy requests (i.e. course sales) and buzz
  • @charabbott: What if IndieBound created a discount for buying books based on tweets by their booksellers or store blog recommendations?
  • @O_David: Could Indiebound give Twitter users & bloggers “affiliate” IDs that could be used in links and traced back?
  • @vromans: Does my blog result in direct sales (i.e click-through to buy)? Rarely. But indirect sales? Definitely. Booksellers tell  me.
  • @AnnKingman: @Vromans makes a good point: twitter/blogs great for branding, but mainstream publishers don’t benefit much from branding 
  • @AnnKingman: Publishers and bookstores directing energies to twitter/blogs means something else must go. So what should go?

How to track blog influence

  • @markrevans: Edelweiss could corrolate internet buzz and [point of sale] data on a given day –  I will see what we can do! 
  • @markrevans: Twitter and blog very different dynamics, probably easier to measure blogs
  • @AnnKingman: I think pubs value blog coverage, but measure it more in terms of “buzz” like traditional publicity, not like marketing.
  • @LizB: Affiliate sales [e.g. via Amaz0n] don’t show whole picture (and not all sales get mentioned in report)
  • @mawbooks: Unlike a bookstore tour where sales are more immediate, blog reviews can still generate sales years later
  • @LizB: [Reviews are] online until server goes down, etc. Electronic isn’t necessarily best archive.
  • @ReneeAtShens: A survey question asking, “Have you ever bought a book after reading about it on a blog or Twitter?”
  • @hmccormack: What about creating a Twitter bestseller list?

Please join this week’s#followreader publishing discussion on Thursday June 25 from 4-5pm ET. To follow to our discussion in real time, go to Twitter Search and type in #followreader. To add your comments to the discussion, follow @charabbott and @katmeyer on Twitter, and include #followreader into your responses.

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photo via www.hydmasti.comMy Book Expo hangover has lasted longer than usual this year, maybe because I crammed four days of meetings into two and, after 10 years of faithful attendance, took Saturday and Sunday off to go to my 20th college reunion. The two events have pushed me to reflect on the past, present and future more intensely than usual, and it’s taken a little while to get my feet back on the ground.

For me, BEA’s bookends were Mike Shatzkin’s talk, Stay Ahead of the Shift: What Product-Centric Publishers Can Do to Flourish in a Community-Centric World, and the CEO Roundtable led by Tina Brown and Harry Evans. While Shatzkin reviewed the considerable changes of the last twenty years and daringly forecasted those of the next twenty, the CEO panel was unhappily mired in the present. Shatzkin fluently played the role of a visionary with Einstein-like hair, pointing out challenges and opportunities with equal verve, but the CEOs were more like grim container ship captains in choppy seas, fastening their attention on e-book pricing, book promotion on You Tube and other threatening icebergs, with all hatches battened.

Shatzkin’s big takeaway was that we are in the twilight of “the good old days,” and entering transitional decades when costs will rise and revenues decline as publishers support inefficient old models and experiment with digital ones that will require many iterations and years to mature. The big takeaway from the CEOs was that it’s just about all they can do to flog the old model: “The Today Show is not as effective as it used to be—and the Internet has not replaced it,” said Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy, who is looking to front-of-bookstore displays to jumpstart sales, even though the recession has markedly reduced store traffic and most browsers start their book searches on the Internet.

Now, to be fair, everyone made generalizations with enough hot air in them to steam up our proverbial glasses. Shatzkin is also an independent consultant who doesn’t have nearly as much at stake from day to day as these venerable publishers. And although both sessions took place (at different times) in the same large conference room at Javits Center, Shatzkin’s talk drew about a third of the audience that the standing-room-only CEO panel did, with fewer recognizable faces in attendance.

I was left with a persistent sense of whiplash as I tried to integrate Shatzkin’s sensible talk about the importance of niche-focused “vertical integration” (e.g. not only creating and distributing content in all formats, but fostering dedicated online communities through content aggregation and curation) with the CEOs’ resolutely traditional view of their role in creating, manufacturing and distributing books in the physical world.

“How are we going to get from resentment about the unsustainable present to a more workable future?” I kept wondering while navigating the crowds between conference rooms. In every panel, everyone seemed on a different wavelength.  Making sense of it all is clearly a big job for as many bright minds as the industry can muster.

Some people, particularly unemployed publishing veterans, are very motivated to start building bridges. But we will also need a whole lot more young, rank-and-file publishing people to attend these forward-looking programs. I’m talking about the 20- and 30-somethings in editorial, publicity, online marketing and sales, as well as in online and bricks-and-mortar bookselling. Though many are on the front lines of the publishing process, they can also be blinkered by their limited roles in the publishing assembly line, and too rarely encouraged by higher-ups to seek out the big picture. But we need their engagement, vision and energy more than ever to make the transition to the future.

(Yes, when I graduated from college 20 years ago, I was one of them – an often blinkered editorial assistant working my way up the ladder at HarperCollins, later moving to Avon Books as an editor, then Publishers Weekly as a writer and editor. But to me, today’s rank and file are luckier than we were, back in the industry’s more stable days, because they have a bigger opportunity now to put their stamp on it.) 

If I have one fervent hope for BEA next year, it’s not so much that consumers will be invited to attend on the last day, as Richard Nash and Michael Cairns have suggested, but that every publishing person in their 20s and 30s has the chance to attend the educational programming and become part of the online and offline conversation about how to get from the present to the future we will create together. Here’s hoping that moving the conference to mid-week next will only make it more possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this as mine continue to gel.

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Word of mouth – always an important influence on booksellers and other early reviewers when it comes to deciding what to read next – is gaining ground on the web via blogs and Twitter. That’s what we learned at last week’s richly anecdotal and completely unscientific #followreader discussion on, yes, Twitter. The hour-long conversation about how professional readers decide what to read drew scores of responses from the U.S., and even the U.K. and beyond.  See below for highlights, including valuable tips for publicists on how to pitch bloggers and booksellers, and the question of using e-galleys.

man in car pileup

Please join this week’s publishing discussion on Thursday May 21 from 4-5pm ET. We’ll be on Twitter at #followreader, a day ahead of our usual Friday timeslot because of the Memorial Day holiday in the U.S. This week’s topic is the connections between librarians/publishers/authors/readers. To follow to our discussion in real time, go to Twitter Search and type in #followreader. To join in the discussion, follow @charabbott and @katmeyer on Twitter, and include #followreader into your responses.

Blog and Tweet Power Rising

Book blogs are clearly exerting influence on booksellers and book bloggers trying to decide what to read, based on the large number of comments we received, though each group seems to trust recommendations from other readers of their own ilk above all (e.g. bloggers trust bloggers; booksellers trust booksellers).

Tweets are also an important new source of recommendations for books, say publishers, booksellers and bloggers (big surprise, since this discussion took place on that very social network). Tweets and retweets only amplify the effect. “I have been really enjoying bookseller recs from their blogs, something I only discover via Twitter,” said one publisher (@AZPress).

Some idiosyncratic rules also guide some readers: one bookseller reported, “I throw in backlist every 4 or 5 ARCs, usually make sure it’s widely in print; out of print books are for vacations! (@jtpm). A blogger said, “If I find a new-to-me author, I usually start reading all backlist. But have a two-books rule: two bad ones and I move on.” (@susanmpls).

Other major influencers are pretty much what you’d expect, depending on the reader’s awareness of an author, interest in plot or subject, the visual appeal of the cover (“I totally read books based ONLY on the cover” @mawbooks), industry buzz, author blurbs, and the book’s release date. For booksellers, the physical quality of the galley is also a factor: “POD is still not up to par, for a lot of book people at least. Bad quality of book = turnoff.”(@leighmcdonald)

E-galleys elicited mixed responses, with some reporting openness to the format but hesitation about the cost of e-readers and the platform issues involved.

What Influences Bloggers

Buzz among bloggers is a key factor in choosing what to read, say bloggers, along with their personal familiarity with the author or interest in the subject. For example, several mentioned that one blogger got about 12 other blogs in the romance community to read a small press title by Judith James.

Author blurbs also influence this group: bloggers are less likely than booksellers to discount blurbs as motivated by politics and logrolling than booksellers are.

New releases, new authors and more genres appeal to bloggers more now than before they blogged, many agree with gusto.

Library and store displays and outreach, and award lists also influence some bloggers.

  •  “My library is really on top of things with weekly newsletter, contests and digital sources.” @BethFishReads
  • “My library displays a lot of local writers’ books. I’d never hear of them otherwise.” @chrisbookarama
  • “Updates is not something my library does. I think the U.S. is ahead on this.” @insidebooks
  • “I’m tempted by 3’s for 2’s in bookstores.” @helenawaldron

Traditional book reviews are an influence to some degree: some read prepub reviews in the print editions of PW, Booklist, Audiofile or Bookmarks, or major publications like the New York Times (“the NYTBR is more influential for nonfiction”), while others read reviews online and on reader networks like Library Thing. Some don’t read reviews at all.

Social networks for readers also attract some bloggers looking for recommendations, but reactions are mixed.

  • “Most of my recs came from Library Thing before I started reviewing & I still look to it as a good source of quality recs” @BookishRuth
  • “I’ve looked at the reviews on Good Reads of books I’m considering. @janicu
  • “I like concept of LibraryThing et al. but it’s hard to spend time in so many different social networks” @katmeyer
  • “Library Thing’s interface annoys me” @janicu
  • “Disappointed in Good Reads for finding books I wouldn’t find otherwise.” @AZpress
  • I hardly look at Shelfari and Library Thing anymore” @chrisbookarama
  • “I find my friends’ bookshelves on Completely Novel a good influence” @helenawaldron

A personalized pitch from the publisher increases the chances a blogger would look at a galley, though some dismiss publisher cover letters altogether.

  • “I appreciate if author or publicist sends me gentle reminder about a month before release date.” @jane_l
  • “Not asking for help, just my consideration. Well crafted and personalized is best.” @mawbooks
  • “Best ones mention things found on my ‘about’ page, compliment my family and blog” @mawbooks
  • “Best ones reference who referred them to my blog, why they are glad they followed through.” @mawbooks

Few mentioned the book’s publisher as an influencing factor. One who did followed the New York Review of Books.

What Influences Booksellers

The look and feel of an ARC matters more to booksellers, particularly the cover.

Buzz or word of mouth is equally important, particularly from other booksellers, but also from customers and publishers. And while booksellers cast a suspicious eye on politicking and payback in author blurbs, they acknowledge that blurbs still have power.

  • “My wife’s rec carries big weight. After that, other booksellers or book bloggers can get me excited.” @vromans
  • “Author blurbs influence whether I feature a title on front table or leave in section.” @RickRennicks
  • “A blurb from a beloved writer will make me at least look at the book @bookdwarf
  • “In my market, a blurb from Neil Gaiman would sell copies of the phone book” @RickRennicks
  • “Re: big blurbers, a co-worker and I get a big chuckle out of every books with an Eggers or Shteyngart blurb @ErinHere
  • “When it’s a personal rec from a rep, always read it and often book ends up  as a staff pick. Love our reps!” @michelleinkwell

Mixed Responses to Digital Galleys

Booksellers and bloggers who read digital galleys wish more were available. Some who don’t reported they would if they had an e-reader, but the price is too high. Some just love paper.

  • “I would love a system where I could pick and choose, download what I’m most likely to read.” @booksquare
  • “If I had an e-reader, I would read digital galleys but I’d still like a copy of book once published.” @mawbooks
  • “Without an e-reader, I know I would never read it on my computer.” @bostonbookgirl
  • “E-readers are good for space, time management.” @helenawaldron
  • “Maybe with one or two more generations of e-readers. So far, too hard to do my page flip scans” @history_geek
  • “I’m not yet reader to buy an e-reader. Until format is standard and universal.” @BethFishReads
  • “When I do an ebook it’s usually a last resort for a book that didn’t arrive in time for my stop on a blog tour.” @Wayne Hurlbert

Thanks again to all who participated!

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human-towersPotential ways that bookstores and book bloggers might work together proved a lively discussion topic on our most recent Twitter discussion, now a weekly event on Fridays from 4pm -5pm ET.

[To listen to our discussions in real time, go to Twitter Search and type in #followreader. To join in the discussion, follow @charabbott and @katmeyer on Twitter, and include #followreader into your responses.]

The topic was sparked by Drew Goodman, a bookseller at The Bookmark at the University of Utah campus store. A Twitterer who writes the Bits of Ink blog, Goodman recently explored the future of the book blogger in a provocative series of posts that got us thinking about bloggers’ potential to straddle the roles of traditional book reviewers and booksellers, and how booksellers and book bloggers might work together.

Interlinking Indie Booksellers and Book Bloggers

While acknowleging that “Every bookstore should have a blog,” Goodman points out:

“Very small stores may not have the time or the resources to devote to maintaining a blog. Small to mid-size stores may not be able to dedicate someone to consistently write a blog (and you must be consistent). Some bookstore owners or managers may not feel they have the technical expertise or internet savvy to create a blog. Some stores question the effectiveness of a blog in generating sales. I’ve heard all the excuses.”

Yet traditional booksellers and bloggers can help one another, Goodman suggests, if stores forge relationships in which a blogger links all their book reviews to a store’s web site. In compensation, he proposes, bloggers “would earn a percentage of each item sold through their recommendation” and might also earn a slightly higher affiliate percentage if they were dedicated to promoting a particular store. The blogger might also receive advanced reading copies of books, and promotion of their site through store marketing efforts, such as listing the blog address on posters and on store bookmarks, mentions at events, etc.

Bookstores might request that a blogger feature a particular book, or post by an author who will be attending the store for an event, Goodman suggests. “Maybe the blogger could allow for guest posts from members of the bookstore staff, still creating potential for sales, while taking pressure off the blogger,” he adds.

More Bookseller Input Needed

The bloggers and booksellers who participated in our Twitter discussion took these ideas in myriad new directions, during an impassioned discussion that went on for a solid hour and a half. Yet as you’ll see from the highlights below, there was more imput from bloggers than from booksellers.

So, booksellers, we would welcome your reponses to this discussion in the comments area below – and surely Goodman would too, on Bits of Ink. [Note: Goodman is identified in the comments below as @booksliesalibis.]

Book Bloggers Unite!

@mawbooks: Book bloggers going to #BEA, message @ftoolan for meet & greet booth space! Great opportunity! Take advantage! #followreader

@ftoolan: Thanks. I hope it catches on. I think bloggers need to show themselves as a community instead of disjointed individuals #followreader

@susanmpls: Is there a comprehensive-ish directory of book bloggers? Ideally w/blog interests. Might be way for indies to find like minds #followreader

@AnnKingman: I am trying to create a database of book bloggers by region to help book community at large #followreader

@bostonbibliophl: I would love to do shelf-talkers/recommendations for a store. porter square, are you out there? harvard bkstore? #followreader

@AnnKingman: Do you know@Bookdwarf? I think we may have to have a Boston area blogger/bookseller meetup. Good idea #followreader

@myfriendamy: Any SoCal bookstores willing to be featured on my blog (a visit from me!) please contact! #followreader

@BookWorm71: I am in Ontario, Canada #followreader

How Can Bookstores (and Publishers) Support Bloggers?

@myfriendamy: If bookstore promotes my blog as place 4 reviews, would gladly link 2 them 4 purchase bc readership is my #1 #followreader

@R_Nash: Hey, how about trusted bloggers’ shelftalkers ‘n’ such? #followreader

@AaronsBooks: we’d do shelf talkers for bloggr reviewed books, & we give ARCs, wld lv bloggers to let us know who they are when in the store #followreader

@JoniParagraphs: I have been working on a blogger recommends shelf – I don’t have staff. Will supplement IndieBest sec. #followreader

@craftygirljen: I think the shelf talkers would be a great way to draw attention to various books & blogs. #followreader

@booksliesalibis: Bloggers, would you print bookmarks with your blog info to leave in stores for stores to share?

@mawbooks: Absolutely! I’d be thrilled to have bookstores pass on my blog info via business cards or bookmarks

@jane_l: Most bloggers are hobbyists & don’t make money from blogging & therefore cannot/will not spend $$ on advertising. #followreader

@ColleenLindsay: Ack! As a former bookseller, I hated when publishers left bookmarks. They end up getting tossed. #followreader

@ColleenLindsay: Stores could offer a promo discount code for readers of a particular blog #followreader

@ largeheartedboy: @bookavore @atomicbooks already offers discounts for my 52 Books series: http://is.gd/vXT8 #followreader

@booksliesalibis: How about a book blogger Tweetup at a local bookstore each month? Have customers talk with bloggers about favorite books #followreader

@RonHogan: Blog/bookstore events don’t have to be author readings. One alternative: book club hosting! #followreader

@bookpatrol: An affiliate program for bloggers with e-commerce enabled publishers AND bookstores might help the cause #followreader

@susanmpls: Pubs would approve co-op to store. It’s up to store and blogger to divvy the share. That’s how I’d run it from our house. #followreader

@ColleenLindsay: Technically, co-op monies belong to the publishers; they would have to approve pay out for this. #followreader

@RonHogan: The collaboration between @maudnewton & Housing Works is a perfect example of blog/store synergy. #followreader

@AaronsBooks: we link to some blogs on our site, we’d do link exchanges with more if there’s interest, but not want it too cluttered #followreader

@trishheylady: If I got to pick from your ARCs, I’d consider not linking to Amazon. #followreader

@mawbooks: I do get to pick ARC’s from my local indie, but it was never expected of me to get rid of my Amazon links. #followreader

@nethspace: Indies offering me galleys and swag does little – I’m already buried and have TBR Stack that’ll last years #followreader

Do Regional Relationships Between Bloggers and Booksellers Make Sense?

AnnKingman: Would think that pubs would love to target regional interest books to local bloggers. #followreader

@largeheartedboy: I am surprised more indies don’t work closer with blogs, especially regional wonders like @mnreads #followreader

@AnnKingman: local certainly not mandatory, but there is power in local. Access to authors, ARCs, community issues & commentary #followreader

@mawbooks: I would love to see if my local indiees would be interested. We have 20+ bloggers in our area. #followreader

@nethspace: link to local store isn’t so good for bloggers who live in small towns with few stores and people #followreader

@nethspace: I love indie stores – but the one’s close to me have terrible SFF selections and knowledge #followreader

@ColleenLindsay: When I started to research SF/F book blogs for online promotio, fully 50% of them were outside US #followreader

@nethspace: Exactly – my reach is probably 99% national/international and <1% local/regional #followreader

@jane_l: That’s the appeal of blogs – bringing together a geographically diverse readership #followreader

@booksliesalibis: If there are few bloggers in an area, why couldn’t a blogger from a distance away support a store? #followreader

@wordlily: Different approaches/scenarios are necessitated by whether area has many/few bloggers/bookstores #followreader

@alexanderchee: Should stores and blog rings adopt each other, and share? #followreader

On Linking to Indies vs. Amazon

@mawbooks: I’ve always had “invisble” links but will start saying “Title available through . . . ” #followreader

@mawbooks: I am uncomfortable with exclusive linking. I would link back to store in addition to Amazon & other sources #followreader

@mawbooks My local indie asked for indie link to be listed first. I can do that. #followreader

@mawbooks: I’ve made exactly zero dollars from Indiebound. But I am changing my linking habits to see if that changes. #followreader

@mawbooks: I have indiebound in my sidebar, but it’s not enough. Links need to be in the posts too.

@jane_l: I linked to AMZN & Powells for 6 months — Earned nothing from Powells & good $$ from AMZN #followreader

@jane_l: I made enough to cover shipping for prizes and blog hosting fees (shipping is hugest event 4 me) #followreader

@jane_l: I switched to Indiebound after #amazonfail. Wanted to walk the talk even at a loss. Am definitely losing $$ #followreader

@jane_l:I have had more than one reader email me that they were disappointed I removed Amazon links #followreader

@jane_l: Part of success of AMZN was offering $$ to bloggers & making it easy for them to integrate into sites & earn $$ from content. #followreader

@Wordlily: Amazon is easy for the purchaser, too, though. One-click purchase, wishlist, free shipping options … #followreader

@BookishRuth: the problem that bloggers have is that most readers want to buy from Amazon. It’s frustrating. #followreader

@bostonbibliophl: I link to Indiebound. But response is always “I like Amazon better.” Indies still going uphill #followreader

@BethFishReads: I’ve made zero from Indiebound, but then I’ve made < $10 from Amazon. I’m not pushing enough, I guess #followreader

@Condalmo: I link to Powell’s w/out any problem. #followreader

@trishheylady: I’m linking to Powell’s along with Amzn. Powell’s link is 1st. Really gd aff prgrm. Don’t know if indiebound compares. #followreader

@booksliesalibis: A problem for indie booksellers. If we give space in our stores & web, we hate to see Amazon on yr blog. #followreader

@myfriendamy: Received a lot of anger from indie sellers for linking to Amazon on buybooksfortheholidays.com not impressed #followreader

@mawbooks: I don’t think you’ll ever get bloggers to stop linking to Amazon.BUT you can get them to do mulitple linking. #followreader

@DevourerofBooks: I’d likely lose sales but willing to put indie first- but I don’t think fewer people would read the blog #followreader

@DevourerofBooks: Could definitely give indies top billing, make a statement ‘consider supporting an indie’ #followreader

@booksliesalibis: That’s the beauty of Indiebound. You promote books, get affiliate $’s and Indiebound handles which store. #followreader

Other Blogger Concerns about Working with Indies:

@myfriendamy: My readership is my no 1, will not compromise for bookstore must consider global readers #followreader

@myfriendamy: Will bookstore be upset if I give neg review 2 one of their hot titles if sending patrons 2 my blog? #followreader

@BethFishReads: I don’t really want to become a commercial-looking site. I want to promote books rather than any 1 store #followreader

@craftygirljen: Stores should make clear they don’t necessarily support blogger views, so bloggers could say what they want. #followreader

@leatherzebra: It’s hard to support indie booksellers when they treat you horribly (directly) for being a genre writer #followreader

@booksliesalibis: I think there are stores out there that respect books, not genres, you could work with them. #followreader

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An important part of our mission at Follow the Reader is to connect book reviewers, book bloggers, media people,  booksellers and librarians on the Web – especially those interested in how the best aspects of the print and digital worlds might converge. So, to break the ice, we’re launching a series of profiles of community members who are abetting the cross-pollination of electronic and traditional print media.

“I would love to have become a Ron Charles [at the Washington Post] or Nick Owchar [at the Los Angeles Times], but I came along at the wrong time. Hence the Book Studio, where I’m creating my own online book review ‘section’ to edit.” –Bethanne Patrick

bethanne20patrickBethanne Patrick is an obvious choice to begin our series. An avid bridge-builder between print journalism, online book programming and TV, she is currently launching a pioneering blend of the three at The Book Studio, an outgrowth of WETA, a PBS/NPR affiliate in the Washington D.C. area. Over the past 12 years, Patrick has developed solid print credentials—most recently as a contributing editor at Publishers Weekly and as a member of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) who has reviewed books for the Washington Post and People magazine. She also currently hosts a weekly author forum at Barnes & Noble’s Center Stage, having cut her teeth launching AOL.com’s book channel from 2004-2007 (now defunct after layoffs). Each month, she also appears on TV to recommend books on New York One. As “The Book Maven,” Patrick is a regular presence on Twitter and in the book blogosphere,  and often participates in thoughtful exchanges with print editors and bloggers that can be tracked across the Web.

(Full disclosure: I am also a contributing editor at Publishers Weekly and an NBCC member – but met Patrick only very recently.)

“I’m a Late Bloomer with a Non-Linear Career”

A Smith College grad, Patrick nearly began her career as a publicity assistant at St. Martin’s Press, but turned down the offer when she became engaged to a West Point cadet whose first assignment was overseas. While her husband attended law school, she started graduate work in English with the intention to get a Ph.D. and teach, but when a college pal pointed out that she’d be happiest talking to people about books, Patrick recognized her true mission.

Like many women with growing families, she found that achieving that goal would involve some improvisation. While having two children and undertaking various moves, Patrick taught and freelanced as a writer for Army Times and Episcopal Life, and bought books by the carload whenever she found a good independent bookstore. Then, in 2001, she was hired as the first telecommuting editor for Pages magazine. Within another three years, she was working at America Online, then located near her home in Northern Virginia, where she launched the books channel. This year, she moved over to WETA.com’s The Book Studio, which offers a mix of book reviews and author interviews in prose and audio formats, including an audio interview with Michael Pollan that will run May 15.

The following conversation – which ranges from the lessons of launching online book sites, to what publishers can do better, to the distinctions between bloggers and book reviewers – took place earlier this week via instant messaging.

The Book Studio at WETA.com

Charlotte Abbott: You are a book reviewer who is pioneering a new online arena for books on the website for a radio and TV station. Does that mean you’re threatening to the status quo every way you turn?

Bethanne Patrick:  Unfortunately, that’s true. I wish we weren’t, but people find it scary to see something new. I will say that the AUTHORS are incredibly happy, grateful and thrilled – but I want READERS to feel the same way. The Book Studio has only been live for a few weeks, and so far, the time on-site stats are very, very good. People are stopping by and staying for a while.

CA: How do you keep the higher-ups at ease?

BP: I tend to be quite a people-pleaser, so why not let that work for me?

CA: But how do you avoid accommodating others so much that you lose opportunities you can see clearly but others can’t?

BP: I did lose some opportunities in the past, but no longer –I’m really focused now on what my strengths are. I know that I want to review and interview. I’d like to be the next Charlie Rose – though that sounds so arrogant. I may not get there! But that is a great goal: to be the online Charlie Rose.

CA: It sounds pretty good to me.

BP:  Some people say to me: “Oh, be more hip than that!” But I believe that books will remain the best way for people to express complex ideas.

CA: Well, we can be sure you will have better hair!

BP: I promise better hair…even if I have more chins!

CA:  What needs to happen for online book forums to assume the preeminence that Charlie has on late night TV for the intellectual set?

BP:  I think we need to include the enthusiasm that people have for talking about books. Maybe we need a book group chat show, a smart one. At the Book Studio, we plan to experiment at some point with group videos -e.g., me and other reviewers, me and a bunch of authors in one genre.

CA: How will you handle reviews?

BP:  Eventually we’ll have both professional reviewers (e.g., Oberlin professor Anne Trubek, Preservation editor Sudip Bose, and more) AND community reviewers. We also want to make sure people will see great book blogs that they might like, where they can go for more of a particular type of conversation, and also circle back to our site for interviews, spotlight reviews, etc.

The Lessons of AOL

CA:  What was your biggest lesson at AOL? 

BP: First: I could talk with readers any time I wanted. But: I didn’t want to chat with just anyone. I wanted to talk to really smart, informed people. I am not trying to be cruel or disrespectful to those who have found their bliss in online chats/book message boards. I just wasn’t interested in chaff at all; I wanted to go straight to the wheat.

CA: Was there a lot of trial and error in launching the book channel?

BP: Oh, yeah. At first, I tried to make things a little too library-like. I had to get into the AOL groove and tuck the intellectual things in between celeb author interviews. That’s why you’ll still find lots of Google hits with me and Heidi Klum!

CA: Did you work with the forums?

BP: In retrospect, I wish I’d worked more with the AOL book forums. There was a lot of power and passion there. But, in my defense, I was actually discouraged from doing so, since the emphasis during my three years at AOL was on original content. (The emphasis shifts at AOL a lot.) I was working hard on developing a voice for my blog and on figuring out how to get publishers’ content fed into our environment.

CA: What was the impact?

BP: My biggest lesson from the community at AOL was that a lot of people will buy a lot of books if you connect them to the content. My most successful examples were two very different books: Mark Leyner’s Why Do Men Have Nipples? and David Friend’s Watching the World Change: 9/11 in Photographs. Show people some content in an engaging way and then give them an immediate opportunity to buy a book and you get big wins, all around. But it has to be in a media context; otherwise, consumers feel too manipulated. (Yes, of course, we’re all being manipulated all the time.)

CA:  Do you mean you created a context for these books related to daily headlines?

BP: Yes, that was the most important thing: to relate to either a headline or a search item. I could have spent my entire AOL career just on Harry Potter, LOL!

CA: Were you ever able to exercise your sensibility as someone with an MA in medieval lit?

BP:  Yes! HarperCollins published a fun little book about 100 Most Famous People Who Never Lived—not just characters from lit, but characters from myth, advertising, etc. Very fun for general public and also for academics, because of the lit connections. My boss said, “Don’t do this, it’s a loser. No one cares about fictional characters,” but I put together a photo gallery with fun text and it was a HUGE win: one million unique page views. Sold a lot of books, too!

CA: How satisfying.

BP:  There is room online for a convergence of commercial success and intelligence. I believe that, or I wouldn’t keep doing what I’m doing.

What Publishers Can Do Better

CA:  From your perspective, what do publishers need to do better, to adapt to the proliferation of bloggers, e-galleys, multiple book platforms, etc.?

BP:  First step: Every publisher needs a PR person for new media, NOT just an online marketing manager. Any publisher whose main PR people are stuck in print/broadcast past should move on. Even TV these days has online components! Second: publishers need to understand that there IS a difference between amateur book bloggers and professional review bloggers like Sarah Weinman, Ed Champion, Mark Sarvas, and me, on my best days.

CA:  How do you differentiate the roles of PR vs. online marketing?

BP: PR people are better at building pre-pub buzz, which is still important. Online marketing people are sometimes good at it — but they’re still better at post-pub marketing.

Book Reviewers vs. Bloggers

CA: What’s the difference between amateur and pro book bloggers – can you spell it out?

BP:  I recently read a so-called “review” on an amateur’s site that was little more than a plot summary, with  an “I loved it,” and a link to a giveaway. That’s lovely and very accessible–but it is NOT a review. A review can be 100% positive, but it still has to give you some analysis, some depth, some peek into WHY the book matters.

CA:  Right, but isn’t there a place for enthusiasts in spreading their enthusiasm for books?

BP:  There is definitely a place for enthusiasts! They are hand-selling books; they are voracious readers and very loyal.

CA: As bloggers and book reviewers converge through electronic media, will only the fittest of each group survive, or can they expand the audience for books if they work together?

BP: A great question, since I am an example of that convergence. As a reviewer, I want legitimacy, standards, a community. I still believe in that, and still believe that the NBCC matters. Which is why I want to drag it kicking and screaming into the online world!

CA:  Yet you seem to very encouraging to book bloggers – judging by your comments and participation on various blogs.

BP: I am, because I think that hearing from people who do adhere to NBCC standards will help them look at those standards, too. Also, nothing’s wrong with MORE talk about books, as long as we all understand that there are still some delineations.

CA: Like between those who write for pay and those who write for free?

BP:  As I’ve said on Twitter, I’ve always been paid for blogging – which makes me suspect to the litblogging community. And I’ve blogged for a long time, which makes me suspect to the NBCC.

CA: How do you think those tensions can be resolved?

BP:  I think they’re all based on fear–that a paid blogger isn’t upholding indie standards, that a blogger of any type can’t uphold critical standards—but neither fear is justified.

CA: So it’s a matter of getting people to look past the format (e.g. blogs or print) to see the quality of the content?

BP: Yes.

CA: Of course, blogs also offer all kinds of fascinating content development opportunities – and self publishing opportunities.

BP:  Yes. That’s why bloggers need to be rigorous about what their goals are.

CA: Thanks for sharing your insights, Bethanne! Best of luck, and please keep us posted on how it goes at The Book Studio.

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