The problem of discoverability is an extremely topical one and one that I have put a lot of thought into since the start of this program. The disappearance of physical shelf space has publishers concerned enough as is. It means they have to find alternate avenues in which to sell their books. A few popular ones include clothing and specialty boutiques, food stores, and transportation-related shops like ferries and Greyhound stations. That being said, this model proves tricky. Consumers are used to buying books in traditional bookstores, as they are used to buying food in supermarkets and clothes in shopping malls. Consumers have shopping habits; they don’t want to be going to seven different stores to find one title. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just changes the game. Book buying becomes a game of stumbling upon a title rather than seeking one out. David Steinberger, president of Perseus Books, mentions in the article “Pull vs. Push” that the new publishing business model means publishers are no longer pushing books; rather, consumers are pulling them. While traditional bookstore shelf space may disappearing, there is no shortage of shelf space as a general entity. But can the same be done on the web?
Events and the idea of a community are a great starting point. While a Simon and Schuster event might not attract as many guests as a Condé Nast or a Wired event, one of its authors may do so very successfully. Moreover, online communities are real, tangible spaces. These events, to a certain extent, already exist. The blogosphere, for instance, is a prime example; it serves as a hub for the online community. An i-Scoop article entitled Online Communities and Social Communities: A Primer addresses this point admirably. The article suggests that individuals have it in their nature to build a community. As such, they will seek one out regardless of the medium available. This has proved to be true through online social communities existing around a array of social and professional interests (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn): “Community is a natural phenomenon, a mindset and a way of engagement. It is also the essence of social business. Communities of people have always existed and online communities existed long before we even used blogs. Social communities are online communities using social platforms.” An online community shares all the same components as a “real-life” community.
Because of this, the same can indeed be done on the web. A community devoted to certain content likely already exists. It becomes the publisher’s undertaking to seek it out and to then supply readers with content when they want it. These communities can prove beneficial in building readership.
Finally, one part in “Pull vs. Push” reads, “Many panellists felt that the best hope of introducing content to people was making it easy for existing costumers to share with their networks of friends.” The article lists Goodreads and Shelfari as examples. While I understand the author’s intent, I personally don’t have any friends (aside from those in the MPub program) that use Goodreads as a source of book reviews. It hasn’t taken off in the same way as Rotten Tomatoes, used for movie reviews, for instance. I would argue that this is because a community has yet to fully develop around Goodreads. While Facebook may not be the answer, another online community likely is. In the same way that authors use Twitter to communicate with readers, publishers need an online community to do the same. Groups and communities, particularly as they relate to word-of-mouth, are key in creating anticipatory buzz and buzz in general for books.