This is a bit of background about the site we’ve just launched for Random House Business books, to promote the paperback of Chris Anderson’s big-selling title The Long Tail.
I’m really excited by this site, and think it represents a pretty bold move by the client, as well as being indicative of a larger tendency in publishing to (finally) see the merits in making book content available free online.
Our view was that seeing as we needed to update the promo anyway, it was worth doing something more ambitious than the hardback site, which really was just a wrapper for the promo, and a chapter download. (Still, the promo has been viewed over 75,000 times, and the chapters downloaded just a little less.)
The hardback site also didn’t have a load of google-friendly text on it, which meant that it wasn’t ever going to go very high up the search rankings.
Since the long tail concept first appeared in magazine form a couple of years ago, Chris Anderson’s Blog has talked a lot about the book (which has become one of those phrases like tipping point which everyone has started using). However, he was careful to not blog the exact content of the book – there were only a few thousand words I think which were on both blog and in the final manuscript. But Chris’ blog was hugely popular, and the business world has pretty much accepted “the long tail” as a concept.
In other words, there is a definite hunger for material from the book, but it’s not available online. We saw this was a chance to measure what effect giving away book content has on a book’s sales.
So, at the time we were briefed, I had been getting excited by building super-search-engine-optimised pages, serialising extracts of (non-fiction in particular) great books, with a view to widening the net of interest in the book. We’d done a similar job for the 2007 Granta List of Best Young American Novelists (which I have to say has pretty much done it’s job as regards the google rankings – although it could maybe do better by giving away more content…).
Additionally, there was some anecdotal evidence in the blogosphere about authors wanting to do exactly this (i.e. that obscurity is a bigger threat than piracy) – from the freakonomics guys , to Chris himself, to sci-fi dons. (In all the links here, I recommend reading the comments).
So, with Chris’ blessing – this is what we’ve done. Built a super-lightweight, fully valid, search-engine friendly, easy on the eye site to show off the range and quality of content in The Long Tail. There is also an exclusive new afterword to the book, which is only available online (and in the paperback itself)
I’m not claiming it’s unique – there have been a couple of other similar projects recently, which happened inbetween us planning this site, and it going live. For example, Headline’s one is It’s All About The Money (which I have to say isn’t the most google-able of phrases to use for a first novel), on which site a first crime novel is being serialised online. It’s now gone live.
But that’s a first novel, and I think that there is a perceived difference between giving away content from a book that sold very well in hardback (and seems to be going nuts in paperback) and a first novel. And that site isn’t so much about search engine optimisation as giving people a taste for the book. (Certainly their code says as much: it’s by no means semantically markedup)
Anyway, we’ve had one piece of (negative) feedback already – in this case apparently from an anonymous source at RH – about the design and structure of the site depending too much on the book and not being original enough.
But where the measure of this site’s success will be is in how much traffic it gets, how many links to it begin to appear in the coming weeks, an how well-indexed and ranked the site gets on searches for “The Long Tail“.
I’ll give an update in a couple of weeks.