Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Five Questions with Redroom.com

A few months ago, a website dedicated to authors named Redroom.com was launched and was noted by SF Chronicle.
Redroom.com, which premiered Dec. 21, is one of the more ambitious online communities for writers to date and perhaps the most timely, aiming to capitalize on the current potential for profitability of social-networking sites. It features 150 authors (with 400 more to come), ranging from Amy Tan and Salman Rushdie to Edinburgh Castle Pub owner Alan Black; Graham Leggatt, executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, who moonlights as a sci-fi writer; and local mystery writer Cara Black.
The site has been well funded and has a strong list of staff members all of whom are 29 yrs old. In addition to the brand name authors noted above, Redroom.com also received the endorsement of Barack Obama who, as an author, joined the community earlier this month.

Ivory Madison is the founder and CEO of the corporation and was kind enough to answer my five questions.

Question 1: There is a lot of background information about the genesis of your site but I am curious as to how you convince authors that they should belong to a social web site like RedRoom. How do you pitch this idea/concept to the big name authors like Salman Rushdie?

Big name authors are just like relatively unknown authors in that some of them are extremely friendly and helpful, and some are not. There’s a different story with every author. In the case of Salman Rushdie, one of the friendly and helpful ones, we made him aware of our interest in supporting public discussion of new books beyond just the best-sellers, which is a cause of his, too. Also, since he didn’t have a website, perhaps finally having an official home online was appealing—you know, some famous authors are frustrated by how much misinformation there is about them on the internet. Authors find it daunting to design and build a website, even if they can afford it, and they’d much rather be asked to join a community where all their friends are, and where the technology is so easy to use, now that there is one.

Question 2: What do you expect of the authors as they ‘socialize’ at Redroom. Thus far, has the interaction surprised you in any way with respect to the amount of participation or the (perhaps) different manner in which they use the site which you may not have anticipated?

I have been surprised and delighted at how positive and funny everyone is. I mean, everyone is so encouraging, and authors, not just readers, are posting fun comments on other authors’ pages. The culture has a life of its own. I’ve also been surprised how, every day, some authors take the time to write original, long, brilliant, fully edited essays for our homepage and as blog entries. Really amazing work on politics, on divorce, religion, media, philosophy…and it’s there for anyone to read, anywhere in the world, for free. So far, I’m in awe, because we’ve barely rolled out a small number of the features I envision us offering. The blogs are the hotspot. If you go to the central blog page at , http://www.redroom.com/blogs, you’ll see all the latest blogs, just posted. That’s everyone’s favorite page.

Question 3: In your PR material you indicate that you will soon reach a community of around 500 authors. Is this a managed level of do you see the site growing significantly larger beyond that size. Assuming you want to grow larger do you see any issues with the mix of ‘celebrity’ authors and those possibly less blessed?

We already have hit the 500 author mark, in less than 60 days of the site being live, and we have another 500 in moderation waiting to be approved. Every day, our developers work on scalability issues, trying to find an interim solution while building the long-term solution, to make the site user-friendly as we grow. We intend to be the starting point for finding authors, so we’ll keep growing rapidly. As for the celebrity issue, we already have more non-celebrity authors than celebrity authors, and they interact. Some of the busiest pages are those of lesser-known authors who are real community-builders, and so most the “stars” on our site are people you may have never heard of (although one of our most prolific bloggers is one of our most famous—Amy Tan). The platform gives unknown authors a chance to promote themselves and be part of a larger conversation with a larger audience.

Question 4: The SF Chronicle notes you are the MySpace for Authors. Is this moniker something you are comfortable with or not? Do you see yourself doing the same for lesser known authors as My Space has done with musicians?

We like when we’re called the “MySpace for Authors” because it’s quicker and people say, “ahh, I get it,” and I don’t have to explain much further. We’re different in many ways, of course. Our authors must apply and not all are approved, much of our content is pretty great—educational and entertaining, you don’t need to know anything about programming to make your Author Page look good, and most of our users are well-read and good writers. I agree that we’ll provide the same important service for lesser-known writers than MySpace did for bands; that’s a great analogy—one that one of our founding authors, Po Bronson, suggested to me when I was still sketching out the site on cocktail napkins.

Question 5: What about this community has surprised you since you launched the site? What can we expect next from Red room?

It surprised me that authors are so honest and revealing, sharing experiences such as the death of a loved one, or a miscarriage. It surprised me that authors showed up at my office with champagne, cakes, signed books, in gratitude for finding them new readers or just making them feel they finally had a home online. What can you expect next from redroom.com? Great question to finish up with: In just a few weeks, we’re rolling out Member Pages, which will be very similar to Author Pages, so that aspiring writers and avid readers can participate. Since you work with publishing professionals, keep watching Red Room through the rest of the year as we roll out Publisher Pages. With the Author Pages, we asked all the authors we knew what they wanted, now we’re asking publishing professionals what they want and we’d love to hear from them about what we could do to make them feel at home, too.

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