A while back, we spent about a year consulting for HarperPress on all sorts of different ideas. Some really big, exciting, change-the-face of publishing stuff, some less ambitious, but more realistic stuff. Some stuff happened, some stuff didn’t.
By far the best thing that did happen was Fifth Estate. It’s a humble, nicely-designed multi-author blog, with the aim of reaching readers in a way that large publishing houses don’t do.
It has a nice tone of voice – in fact, several – but also has the confidence and authority to get over that “oh look we’re blogging” tone that several of its competitors share. It’s decidedly not a corporate website, despite the ownership of the company. In fact, it’s decidedly human.
The brief wasn’t to build a cheap blog, it was something much more ambitious, risky and expensive. Our response was that a blog was the most sensible, affordable, and achievable way to do what they needed to do online: it was a way to test the water quickly, under-the-radar, and if necessary, to fail cheaply.
They far from failed and the project has become one of the most visible and successful of HarperCollins’ digital initiatives.
Still the main reason for its success is not us – it’s HarperPress’s ability to (1) run with an idea that not everyone in the company thought would “fly” and (2) be agile enough to give a brilliant commissioning editor the freedom to make the blog her own.