Thursday, January 14, 2010

Considering Audience

When asked to take a look at the websites of publishing houses and then think about their intended audiences for our first assignment, I thought that would be pretty easy. I was wrong. I'm more confused now than I was before, and I'm trying to figure out what a publishing house website should be. As a reader, I've never visited a publishing house to get more information on a favorite book. Sure, I've got my favorite authors, but I've never investigated their publishers. When I'm looking for a new book, I prefer to search bookstores, or Amazon. The only time I've been to a publisher's website was when I wanted information about their submission guidelines.

Most of the publishing houses I looked at have home pages stuffed with information. Take a look at Random House. Their intended audience is spelled out in their sub-head: "Bringing you the best in fiction, nonfiction & children's books." Most of the front page real estate is filled with an advertising slide show labeled, "Books for a New Year, New You." Random House is marketing to the people that look at January as a chance to change. I'm betting that in February this advertising spot becomes all about romance and love. Is Random House trying to market directly to consumers, and if so, why? Do book buyers come to Random House to shop for new titles?

While the landing page is a sort of free-for-all reminiscent of e-commerce site Amazon, back pages focus on specific audiences. Navigating to the sub-domains requires a bit of digging. I found the children's focus page not by clicking on the "juvenile fiction" category, which led to their juvenile fiction backlist, but by scrolling down and entering through the "kids@random" sidebar feature. Once there, users can go to pages specifically built for their favorite books. Random House calls these "mini-sites." Each has a distinct theme and feel reflective of the book or series they represent. While I think that this is a nice offering, I'm wondering how many kids navigate through the front page and end up here. Maybe these kids pages are really for the buying parents? Random House also has a page directed at teachers, and another for librarians. The web resources for Random House children's books are probably a nice selling point for teachers and librarians. If I were an educator, I would find the planning calendar particularly helpful for creating monthly reading themes. I would like to see an easier way to get to these pages.

The Random House front page is a turn off, but seems to be the industry standard. HarperCollins also has a busy home page, but their top imprints are easier to find. Each imprint's web page is nicely tailored to the audience. Their Avon imprint is clearly focused on women. I also like the HarperCollins children's page better than Random House. It feels better thought out. There are more moving things, navigation is easier, and the bottom half of the page is not taken up with site links and legal junk. HarperCollins also has games and contests that look like fun, but I'm still left wondering how many children look at these pages.

Unlike Random House and HarperCollins, Penguin doesn't have a very well-developed area for children. Instead, they rely on mini-sites, most of which have a separate domain name. For the book Audrey, Wait! the mini-site features the usual information-an intro, an excerpt, and an author bio-but also a list of relevant songs that you can buy from Itunes and a fun tabloid generator. The nice thing about hosting these away from Penguin is that they are easy to find in Google. Aren't users more likely to do a quick search for the title, than to go to the publisher's website and hunt around for additional information?

Maybe my confusion about these sites stems from confusion on the part of the industry. Maybe that's why HarperCollins is using ForeSee software to poll users. All of the questions basically ask, "Who are you and why are you here?" I understand that having web pages that reflect imprint identity and offer community interaction is important, as is maintaining an online backlist. Perhaps building communities around imprints or authors should be the main focus of publishing house websites. Catering to too many audiences and having too many goals makes these sites confusing. A community focus would provide readers with additional resources regarding their favorite imprints, authors, and books, but I don't think that readers are going to publishing houses to buy books. Am I totally wrong?


  1. I agree that with what you're saying. I don't think many people by books directly from publishing house websites so why are their webpages marketed primarily for readers? It doesn't make a lot of sense. When I did my research, some of the worst sites I saw were the big publishing houses.

  2. Kirstie, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me either. I guess we'll be exploring that this week in our blogs!