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Publishers create online communities

27 May 2013

A recent Bowker study showed that the number of publisher-owned online communities is set to more than double in the next two years. Two-thirds of responding trade and academic publishers in the UK and US already have such a site, and it's expected that 90% of them will do so by 2015. Most of them believed that the investment was already paying off. But only 16 per cent saw the communities as viable sales channels.

Jo Henry of Bowker said: "It is interesting to note that in this survey US publishers were not significantly more advanced than UK ones - and that trade publishers appear to be leading the way in developing online communities."

This marks an extraordinary turnaround. Only a short while ago such direct contact with readers would have been unthinkable. It's not just that the web, which has made this possible, had not yet reached this level of development, but also that publishers thought it was ineffective to try to reach readers themselves and better to continue to go through the book trade. The cost of communicating directly was thought to be prohibitive but it wasn't expected to work either.

It is the genre publishers who have led the way, starting with science fiction and fantasy and then encompassing romance and crime. Certain kinds of non-fiction lend themselves to finding an enthusiasts' market.
Romance publisher Mills & Boon feature highlighted discussions that encourage their readers to interact. ‘Romance HQ' and M&B readers.

Coming from Orion's venerable Gollancz imprint, The SF Gateway aims to make as many of the classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy as possible available in ebook form. 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 fils and has been phenomenally successful in engaging young readersby offering them something more than is in the books. LIttle Brown's The Crime Vault offers a range of crime.

Osprey is trying to make its consumer site the destination for all those interested in military history. Not only do they see it as a means of selling books, but it's also a way of finding out what this specialist market wants.

From the publishers' point of view, once you have the site and someone to keep it going, it is also a wonderfully cheap way of contacting readers and promoting books. For the authors. it's a brilliant way of their books reaching their audiences.