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Publishers go for online reader communities

10 February 2014

Online communities are the way things are going. Publishers have been trying to establish communities of readers to sell books to for some time, but now an author blogger has called for them to set up communities of writers too, and perhaps even communities of publishers and freelances as well.

Publishers have been thinking about communities of readers for some time, as they try to develop relationships direct with their consumers. In the past they have steered clear of this, finding it hard work and preferring to sell books through the book trade. But now the future of that same book trade is looking uncertain, especially since many bookshops are endangered by drastic price-discounting by Amazon and other online booksellers. Supermarkets are also continuing to use their high discounts to build a real presence in bookselling, even if it is with a specific and quite small list of books.

The indie booksellers can't compete and this forces publishers, who have anyway tended to neglect them in recent years, to think again about how they can profitably come up with a way of selling their books. Given the opportunities afforded by the internet, it's not surprising that what they've decided is to think about creating communities of readers, although those communities are often more like online sales sites.

Pan MacmillanOne of largest fiction and non-fiction book publishers in UK; includes imprints of Pan, Picador and Macmillan Children’s Books in the UK has just launched a new women's lifestyle website - The Window Seat - which will contain book content as well as culture and entertainment news, and will also launch a women's book club. It claims to be a "Pan Macmillan branded audience-focused vertical bringing together the best in women's fiction, as well as non-fiction and lifestyle content targeted at this core group of readers".

Jodie Mullish, head of fiction marketing, said: "It's a core strategy of ours to deepen our relationship and engagement with women readers across the genres. We wanted to create relaxing, enjoyable online spaces, which we intend to be perfect places for women to discover and share their next good book - whether that's by a talented debut author or an established favourite."

Elsewhere, HarperCollins is looking to sell ebooks globally direct- to-consumer, starting with two old faithfuls and The publisher has also launched a free app, HarperCollins Reader, which will allow readers to search the publisher's available e-book library and download titles. The sites are currently available in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. HarperCollins said the new platform would help the publisher reach new audiences.

Constable & Robinson (rather sadly sold to Little Brown last week following the death of its much-loved publisher Nick Robinson) has launched a website dedicated to the "cosy crime" genre as part of its bid to directly reach more niche audiences. It already has a website, C&R Crime, dedicated to its general crime list, was planning further sites that would appeal to particular markets, and this approach is likely to be supported by its new owners.

Guy Fowles, online marketing manager at Constable & Robinson, told The Bookseller: "The idea was to build a community around our cosy crime stable of authors, seeing as we have a strong list. We want to reach people who like to follow these books, and engage with them directly. The idea is to grow the site and constantly add content, whether that's Q&As with the authors, new writing or competitions. We see these sites a real way to engage with the audience."

The problem for publishers will be the extra cost of producing the additional material, only some of which can come from the books and the authors. This degree of content is not something publishers have been used to producing and it's expensive to do. But selling online is wonderfully cheap, so the whole proposition is actually potentially quite attractive - although whether it will compensate for lower bookshop sales remains to be seen.