One of the first BookExpo panels I sat in on was about the search for “Book Publishing’s 2.0 Business Model” with (from left to right) indie publisher Derek Powazek, Shelfari marketing VP Dave Hanley, and author Scott Sigler, who “landed his book deal by giving away multiple novels as free, serialized podcasts that generated a large online following,” and was talking about the success of that model as I came into the room a few minutes after the discussion had started, describing his belief that he was providing people with a way to test-drive his stories at no financial risk before buying the books.
“The old idea that putting something you want to sell in print online devalues the print version is wrong,” Powazek said in agreement, adding that even the distinction between online and offline reading is irrelevant now. And while the book publisher’s role as a source of authority, as exercised by editorial decision, will endure, it’s important to recognize that readers already have the ability to become equally authoritative in slightly different ways. “There are already communities of people out there who consume your work,” he told the publishing execs in the audience. “You just haven’t given them the tools to talk to each other yet.”
But somebody is, which is where Hanley came into the conversation, talking about how Shelfari, a social networking site where users rate and review the books they’ve read, provides a space for discovery, expression, and connection. Those themes would continue to play out the following afternoon, as reps from several social networking sites got together for another conversation. That discussion was full of phrases like “virtual bookshelf,” “recommendation engine,” “author wikis,” all of which the different companies participating in the panel use as a means of “increasing member engagement.” But the fundamental point was the same: Readers want to share their enthusiasm for the books they love and, when you get right down to it, word of mouth is what really drives sales. So anything that facilitates word of mouth should be looked upon by the publishing world as a good thing.
Carrie Kania of HarperPerennial, Gather.com regional sales manager Lauren Rubinstein, Shelfari sales and marketing director David Nudo, and Books iRead.com CEO Krishna Mokuturi relax before their panel on social networking while another Shelfari staffer checks Nudo’s presentation slides.