Monday, May 28, 2007

Publishers Must Blog!

As publishers we are in the content creation and information business. As owners of the means of production we have always been the gatekeepers between creation of intellectual works and the consumers of this material. It should be no surprise to any of us that the expansion of new media application erodes the foundation of these gates as individuals gain direct access to an audience and leverage facilities to comment and opinionate about the very output that we in the publishing industry labor hard to select for them. At the same time, search undercuts and demythologizes the power of branded content, and provides the average Joe with information and content that is good enough for their immediate requirements.

If you can’t beat them join them: Developing a social media strategy that encompasses blogging should be a foundation of all publishing house marketing and promotion plans. I have mentioned before (in relationship to book reviews) that I am less convinced of the value of typical marketing programs supporting book promotion. My macro view above can only be mitigated by joining the new media fray and developing networks of interested parties that can nurture, support and perhaps develop content that you produce as a publishing house. As market segments evolve, I think they will become narrower and more defined and publishers that support communities (via social) must be able to participate in these communities in a meaningful way in order to be successful. This is already the case on computer book publishing.

When I started this blog, like everyone else I sought links to place on my blog. I found many but few from established publishers. Over the past year, I have seen more publishers enter the blog world but the numbers still seem small for an industry dependent on words and information. Authors and publishers should develop a blog strategy and blogging should be a natural extension of any publishing house. This idea was the genesis for the panel presentation I am hosting at BookExpo this week.

  • As I thought about the theme of the panel meeting, my thought process mirrored the approach I took and the benefits I saw in establishing a blog.

  • Blogging gave me an opportunity to experiment with new technology

  • I became a publisher/content producer and, as traffic increases, one with responsibility to an audience

  • Develop a personality beyond a ‘resume’ or existing professional reputation

  • As popularity increases, the blog becomes a center of a growing network of interest

  • Expands a professional network: who knew there were as many people with shared views and perspectives?
As I mentioned, there are a number of very popular publishers who are actively blogging but in my view every publisher should have numerous blog sites: some official but the company should also support individual blogs by its employees. Developing a code of conduct is relatively simple and in some cases the employees themselves can be instrumental in formulating this code. (Obviously, the company cannot police every corporate blogger; however, every employee has some fiduciary responsibility to act responsibly towards the company they work for). While affiliation with a publishing house is powerful, as an editor, marketing director, or publisher, I would recommend developing your own blog – so that you can build an online personality that is somewhat separate from the corporation. That is not to say that you can’t blog for the house, but developing your own blog enables flexibility and individualism that can and will be important to you professionally. While you support your current publisher you are also developing your own brand.

As a publisher, or one who works in a publishing organization, it seems redundant to explain the mechanics of getting started as a blogger: You really should know this stuff because it is what your audience (and some competitors) has been doing for a few years now.

  • Choose from any number of hosted tools: Blogger, WordPress, Icerocket, Moveable Type and many, many others. I use Blogger but if I were to do it over, I would pick one of the other popular tools. Blogger has only recently added basic functionality that others have offered for a considerable time.

  • Pick a name: Perhaps not as easy as it would seem and I would err on the side of professionalism rather than something like ‘monkeyboy’. (Unless you are a publisher at National Geographic in which case it may be appropriate). Using your name is perfectly acceptable - as many do. I would not recommend tying the blog name to the name of your publishing house (they may not allow it anyway) because the blog wouldn’t be portable.

  • Plan out your first few weeks of blog posts and use your experience as material. If you are an editor your titles and authors should be the focus of your interests and don’t expect that you will ‘hit your comfort zone’ in terms of content immediately. It took me several months before I started to deliver content in a thematic way.

  • Learn from what the other publisher bloggers are doing and link to as many sites as possible. The more links you establish the more you will be noticed. Establish a account and ‘clip’ the articles and blog posts you find interesting. Not only is this a valuable resource for your own research but you can use these links as material for your blog posts. Once a week, I capture my ‘clips’ in a blog post.

  • The marketing and promotional aspects of blogging are still evolving but establishing a social network that links consumers, authors, publishing executives, agents, etc. will be a powerful tool to support the house’s publishing product. The social community can be useful in developing markets, expanding reach and gauging interests and/or trends. All important aspects of marketing and content acquisition functions.

A few months ago, I heard Joe Wikert (of Wiley) speak about publisher’s blogging activities and why they can’t afford not to. I asked him about the branding issue: Was he the brand or is it John Wiley. He pointed out that while he promotes Wiley incessantly there are no Wiley logos on his site. The site is supported by Wiley in the sense that they do not edit or ask him to manipulate any content. Wikert suggested that the company did take a considered look at employee blogging activity and decided on a ‘common-sense’ approach which meant self governance by the bloggers. Wikert said his blog is really not a Wiley product but he believes his blog is valuable to Wiley because it proves to an important community (the IT world and technical book authors) that Wiley understands the community and environment. The separation from Wiley does allow Wikert to express his own opinions which as a purely corporate blogger he might find difficult.

Establishing a personality as a blogger should be a professional requirement of all of us in the publishing community. Don’t forget to let your employer know and understand what you are doing and what you want to achieve since full disclosure may eliminate problems later on. Don’t be afraid to use your contacts and network of professional relationships to get the word out and if you are really lucky the company may link to your blog from their web home page which should drive more traffic to you. Lastly, use web analytics tools available from Feedburner or Google Analytics (and others) to track your traffic and let you understand what works and what doesn’t.

Get started.


Joe Wikert said...

Hi Michael. I couldn't agree with you more! Although I've been blogging for more than 2 years now and am truly hooked, I remember what it was like when I first started out. As I look back, I realize it was a lonely venture, but it's been worth every minute I've invested. Publishers need to realize that blogging is a great way to forge a stronger, direct line of communication with your prospective customers, whether they're book buyers or authors. Give it a shot. Start a blog and stick with it for a few months. I guarantee you'll enjoy it. Also, let the rest of us with publishing blogs know about your new blog -- we'd love to help hype your efforts on our own blog!

Anonymous said...

Excellent guide for publishers who don't really get it - and of course I'm in complete agreement. My previous employer, Snowbooks, was one of the first publishers to start a blog, and for a small publisher it got us inordinate amounts of publicity, good vibes and repeat visitors - there's no real argument against it.

Not relevant to this post (but your email seems to have disappeared from the page) - Are you aware your RSS ( has started pumping out reams of financial data from c1997? All very odd.

Adam Hodgkin said...

Some follow-up on whether magazine publishers are lagging book publishers in the blogging stakes:

Anonymous said...

Spot on Michael. Nice post.

Anonymous said...


I took your advice and started a blog but my perspective is from someone trying to get into the publishing industry. I subscribe to your blog and have found it very useful.

Kind regards