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Harper Collins last week launched HarperPlus (see Bookseller coverage here). The site describes itself as “designed to enhance the reading experience”. By entering a page number from the print title where a symbol is displayed, you will get access to a variety of additional content (either video, audio, image, text or game).

The first book on the site is Apache by Ed Macy. It’s easy to see why a book like this works well. There are lots of additional photos, and creating a platform like this is a way to introduce additional value without adding to production charges, while at the same time creating something that readers can interact with.

This is a great strategy by HC. Not just in terms of reader engagement, but more for the benefit of providing the book with free online advertising. Readers get to experience something of the book’s essence outside of just the print title.

Where I think HC’s site falls down is in the levels of interaction possible. Given this is a very glossy-web.2.0-looking site, it’s almost frustrating to find that actually, once you’re on there, it’s all pretty much flat content, with little or no opportunities for the fans to engage on the site. They can read the additional content, listen to the audio and watch the videos, but they have no choice other than to do this on their own. This is missing a trick: while reading is a solitary activity, sites like this should be faciliating dialogue, and letting fans connect. Other than social media bookmarking, you’re on your own on HC Plus. Shame.

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There seems to have been a sudden splurge of online collaboration tools, both within publishing and the wider academic community. After my forage a few weeks ago into the world of ning, I do currently intend to try out some of these others and do some detailed comparisons. But for the time being, here’s some highlights…

First up, the new fresh author talent site from Harper Collins: authonomy. Aiming to bring together new authors along with potential readers and publishers, the site offers a community approach to rating new content. Attractive, nice welcoming tone, lots of user interaction, this site has been well planned and the community has well and truly bought into the concept. It had a good publicity launch followed by a period of BETA testing. It’s a really neat concept and a strong business opportunity – both for the authors getting the profile and the publishers growing a fan base. What is even more interesting is that HC is getting lots of great profile and loyalty, yet the site is open to other agents and publishers to do business too.

Next up is Penguin’s new partnership with match.com. Not so much a social network, rather an online chance to bring together individuals with a shared interest, even though there is membership and the chance to interact. I didn’t want to create a profile so can’t tell you much about its merits, other than to say it’s another great example of how the Penguin brand gets a big profile boost, without this being directly tied to the main Penguin business, or restricting it to being only about Penguin. My only criticism was it was really not easy to find this thing – search results were not great, so I had to search via the Penguin blog to find an entry point. Might just be my incompetence, but SEO needs to be next on the agenda…

Same goes for the new Facebook app from Pan Macmillan, who have launched the ‘Love letters of Great men‘ app to accompany the new book release of the same title. I have to say it took me quite some time to actually locate the app. The fan base is currently quite small, but I haven’t done my homework on what the average uptake of a new app is, or what the likely growth of new apps might be. I decided against downloading this one, but I wanted to include it to show again the kinds of things happening in networks.

I don’t intend to go into detail on some of the following – you can read more about them in Paula J Hane’s article on Information Today, but I will certainly be spending some time getting to know Research1; the American Chemical Society (ACS); the Canadian Medical Association (CMA);  and Indiana University School of Medicine Informatics’ Laboratree, along with the more established 2collab and labmeeting. So much fun to be had…!

Yes it’s still the talk of the dinner table. And now my appetite is well and truly whet after a week’s holiday in the US. I was out in suburban New England and yet even so was surprised that the large Barnes and Noble that I came across had no idea what I was talking about when I approached the desk and asked if they stocked the new Sony eReader. The polite store helper suggested I have a look on Amazon instead. Hmm.

So anyway after a week of unsuccessful hunting, imagine my joy when at the airport, I came across (and yes I really did find this quite entertaining) a Sony vending machine!! I’d thought the paperback vending machines in the UK were fun, but this was really the one you wanted to get the accidental extra packet from!

And in the Sony vending machine, there it was…

Unfortunately stuck inside a box, but nevertheless looking sleek and attractive.

Guess what. That wasn’t the only e-Reader in the airport. To my great joy, guess what was adorning the sales desk in Borders? Yes. A ‘try me’ Sony e-Reader. Loaded with books and ready to use.

Well I have to say I am not a techy. And I’m not an early adopter. And I like my paperbacks and magazines in print. But I have to say I liked it. It’s very very aesthetically pleasing. It’s much smaller than the older models I’d seen, and the navigation is simple and sensible. The e-ink is actually more impressive than I thought it would be too – it really is easy to read.

Will I buy one though? Really not sure. The Bookseller this last week shared discussions between publishers on e-book pricing ahead of the UK launch. There’ll be some interesting follow ups over the coming weeks as we see what areas of publishing will be most successful here, and where this just isn’t going to work. Will the prices go down if there is no uptake? Will there be some interesting new business models developing? 

I’m in the camp that there’ll be a lot of early adopters on this one, despite the cost, as it really is a nice looking package, but for me, for now at least, I’m just going to sit back and watch what will be a really interesting autumn.

Well a lot’s happened in my longish absence from posting, and it seems a little pointless to go back and write about it all, but part of me knows that won’t stop me, as I still think some of it’s interesting!

It’s been a gruelling couple of months at work, followed by a much needed break, and now I find myself having given up yet more of my free time choreographing some dances for an opera. Still if I was bored I’m sure I’d complain…

This does however act as my excuse for not finding the time to write about all the PR/marketing/publishing thoughts I’ve been storing. So this is me making a personal pledge to find the time. Not sure when or how, but it’s a promise I’m intending to keep. I still haven’t figured how the truly committed bloggers manage it. Maybe they have more than 24hrs in their days…it’s possible I’m sure…

Nothing to say on this other than yes. That’s exactly what I keep banging on about. Sounds like it was an interesting conference…

Seems to be a bit of a battle commencing for market share in e-readers when the Sony e-reader hits our shores later this year. I have to confess I’ve only been mildly interested in e-readers from a business perspective – not really as a user. I’m a bit behind the times to be honest – haven’t even managed to invest in an ipod yet (the shame…)…

But I was interested when a colleague told me this morning that Waterstones are claiming exclusive rights to selling the e-reader when it launches. Clearly a statement setting up not only the e-reader against the Amazon Kindle but setting up some direct competition between the two booksellers.

What I find particularly interesting about this soon-to-be battle is the idea that the product is being bought to make e-content portable. So does this have any bearing on whether the Kindle (sold by the great e-tailer), or the e-reader (brought into the UK marketing by the largest highstreet book retailer) will see greater take up.

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Perhaps being sold on the highstreet or through e-tail actually has no real bearing on eventual uptake: certainly sales of other portable devices (e.g. the i-pod) occur on street level and through e-tail, but I can’t think of an example of pitting two new brands against each other like this. Also I am kind of discounting Waterstone’s abilities to generate online sales: I don’t have the figures on what their online sales are like: perhaps they are quite high, but I doubt they are comparable to Amazon’s figures.

There are obviously other factors to consider too: I attended a presentation in February that strongly suggested the e-reader is the better beast – better functionality, usability, and ultimately (I think?) a better price. If there’s going to be a move towards widespread e-book use, all these factors will most certainly come into play. Look forward to seeing where this one goes.

Spent Monday and Tuesday this week out at the London Book Fair at Earls Court. This was my second year attending the fair – not my favourite to be honest it’s difficult to navigate and I found myself getting lost trying to get from one side of the hall to the other on more than one occasion. The seminars are, however, fantastic. And free. Nice.  So I spent the weekend plotting out a plan of all the sessions I would like to try and get to. I’m on a big personal mission at the moment to start re-focussing on my professional development (more on that shortly) so I went along to a couple of very relevant sessions for PR: ‘Getting books on the front page’ hosted by the PPC, and ‘Going Green’, hosted by Publishing Week.

The PPC session was packed to the rafters. I’d arrived late as I’d had to come direct from another meeting, and found myself wedged (standing) into the very back corner directly under a speaker. And there were plenty of other people sitting on the floor and standing at the back – so clearly a very popular topic. The speakers were also all great, which I have to say was really refreshing. Speakers were: Richard Brooks, Arts Correspondent, The Sunday Times; Rebecca Jones , Today programme; Susanna Rustin, The Guardian; and Steven Williams, Joint Managing Director, Midas PR. I was honestly impressed that all four had taken the time to prepare for the session rather than just wing it, as I’ve seen panelists do all too often. They were also open and honest, giving numerous real examples of cases that have worked successfully for them with book pitches. Best piece of advice I came away with was to make a lot more of the personalities behind the books and their strong opinions/expertise, rather than just focusing on the content of the book itself. It’s already triggered lots of potential ideas in my mind and I’ll be looking for opportunities to profile some of our more opinionated authors in the future.

The ‘Going green’ session was timely given the recent release of the <CIPR best practice guidelines for environmental sustainability communications. Of the speakers, most interesting from a PR point of view was Ashley Lodge , HarperCollins’ CSR guru. Aside from reading word for word from his notes (which was a shame since he demonstrated he knows his stuff during the q&a’s), he presented a well-rounded view of a company that’s not only taking the right steps in changing business practice, but that is also focussing on messaging that both within and outside the organization. There was a lot of discussion about engaging staff, and using them as the drivers of being a greener company. There were some good tips, and I’ll be writing them up and sharing them back at the office. As far as the CIPR guidelines go I am yet to give them a good read. Tying both this session’s key points alongside the guidelines will definitely be useful though.

Overall themes at the fair were digitization and social media. I was gratified to see the expression ‘people like me’ appear in the Book Fair’s official publication ‘The Guide’. This was the whole premise of my dissertation last year – and is something that PR’s should be paying much greater attention to…in my humble opinion.

 

You may have come across my previous blog when I initially started doing my dissertation for a CIPR diploma in 2007. Having finished in September last year, I’ve since been a little quiet, and have not been doing a great job of managing my professional development. So with the arrival of a rather snowy April, I’m setting out my thoughts on PR in publishing, and hoping to pen some ideas for professional development on the way. All comments as ever are very welcome.