By Jane Tappuni
Last month, Publishing Technology commissioned a study based on trends we were noticing among academic and trade publishers. Previously, marketing was focused mostly on libraries and booksellers, making them advocates for journals and books. But, due to the decline in library purchases and the closing of bookstores over the last few years, publishers have devoted more of their marketing budget towards building a direct relationship with their customers. The creation of online communities has been central to this.
With the recent sale of the social networking site GoodReads to Amazon for a reported $150 million, it is clear that an online community around books and storytelling is a valuable commodity that could help publishers react better to reader interests. But, is it worth publishers investing in the creation of their own branded online community?
Publishers think so. According to our study, conducted by Bowker Market Research, the number of publisher-owned online communities is set to more than double over the next two years. The study, which focused on US and UK publishers in both the trade and academic markets, found that two-thirds of responding publishers currently host reader communities, and that this number is set to rise to over 90% over the next two years.
Some of the more popular online communities are focused around a particular genre or interest that attracts a targeted audience — military history publisher Osprey Publishing utilizes the abundant opinions of their readers to inform commissioning options on new military and historical texts; romance publisher Mills & Boon feature highlighted discussions that encourage ‘Romance HQ’ and M&B readers to share stories, advice and questions on love and life; Pottermore, brings to life all of the backstories of the characters and aspects of the Harry Potter world that were not featured in the books or films.
Of those publishers who already have online communities, 64% were convinced that their investment in this market is already paying off and would continue to do so by providing good marketing support to sales channels. With that success, a quarter of publishers expect to have seven or more networks up and running by 2015, with many more respondents predicting a huge growth in the number of online communities for their company, from a current average of 2.1, to more than 5 over the next 2 years.
Though the study only focused on publishers in the US and the UK, the trend is an international one. China’s Cloudary, (the rebranded name of Shanda Literature, part of Shanda Interactive, a gaming company), was launched in 2008 and built on a thriving community of both readers and writers. Anyone can upload their stories and use the site as a platform to build a fan base or successful writers can test out a story on readers. The site claims around 800,000 writers. The Shanda Network operates through three known portals and controls over 90% of China’s online reading market with the majority of content falling between the science fiction and fantasy genres. And it is so popular that it has been working towards an IPO.
What our study revealed was that publisher support for online communities, both their own and others, is now at the forefront of their transformation into consumer facing organizations, and consumers are eager to participate in this.
Jane Tappuni is the EVP, Business Development at Publishing Technology. For more information on the online communities study, please visit: publishingtechnology.com/blog