Opportunities in Book Publishing and Web Communities

A recent piece in the The New Yorker bangs the familiar death knell for newspapers, but amidst the gloom lies a potential roadmap for community-savvy publishers:

“… the owners of the Huffington Post had discovered a formula that capitalized on the problems confronting newspapers in the Internet era, and they are convinced that they are ready to reinvent the American newspaper. “Early on, we saw that the key to this enterprise was not aping Drudge,” [Kenneth] Lerer [Huffington co-creator] recalls. “It was taking advantage of our community. And the key was to think of what we were doing through the community’s eyes.” (Emphasis added.)

The concept of community doesn’t come easily to traditional publishers (including book publishers) because top-down content has been the heart of virtually all pre-Web publishing. But once you get past the paradigm shift — and the fear — of community-centric efforts, the opportunities reveal themselves. For example, sites like Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari are using the love people have for books to develop community-driven businesses.

But there’s more to community than book recommendations, social networking and the latest Web 2.0 tools. Communities often need advocates who start and continue conversations, and who better to advocate for content than the publishers of that content?

To illustrate: imagine you’ve got an upcoming business title that’s in the vein of The Tipping Point or The Long Tail (you’re lucky). You’ve seen that these types of topics get people thinking and arguing, and you also know that you — as the publisher — should facilitate these conversations. So what do you do?

You think “through the community’s eyes.”

You can connect readers to authors and editors through a blog; develop forums around the book’s themes and topics; create an information exchange for related ideas and projects; incorporate the opinions of bloggers, experts and pundits into an overall “conversation hub”; organize blog tours; provide a platform for real-world and digital meetups, etc.

And if you want to push the envelope, foster community before books are even published.

What community ideas do you have? What topics lend themselves to community efforts? Please share your thoughts and comments.

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