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How important are online communities to publishers?


First published on http://blog.publishingtechnology.com/

Perhaps the biggest challenge that publishers will have to face as businesses as the digital reading revolution enters its next phase is how they can forge meaningful relationships with consumers. Historically trade publishers have been business-to-business entities which have had very little engagement with the people who buy books, typically leaving the management of this relationship to booksellers. As the drive to digital reduces the number of physical retail outlets, publishers are needing to learn new ways of getting their books into consumers’ hands, and one of these is online communities.

These initiatives, which see trade publishers create and then manage mini-social networks focused around their content are a clear signal that trade publishers are starting to become consumer-facing businesses. Initiatives like HarperCollins’ Inkpop, Pottermore, Hachette’s Pick a Poppy and Gollancz’s SF Gateway demonstrate that developing a community of interest around an imprint, genre or (in the case of Pottermore) a book-series enables publishers to create a captive market to which it can sell more product.

On the academic side of the fence, online communities coalescing around particular journals or journal series have long been held up as an excellent method of improving the quality of academic discourse, facilitating collaboration and even speeding up the peer review process.

Currently there is very little primary research available that delves into this topic in detail, despite the subject’s clear importance to publishers’ future business models. We have therefore commissioned Bowker Market Research (BMR) to undertake a study into the growth of trade and academic publishers’ online communities and how they are used to connect with readers and raise brand awareness.

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