New Ways to Profit from Content, Part 1: Using Sites and Chunks
by Adam Salomone and Bruce Shaw
With the advent of digital technology and the wider distribution of content online via social networks, genre-specific and subject-specific communities, and content platforms, publishers are thinking about new formats for books. But we also need to be thinking on a more granular level, about new ways to use our content.
At The Harvard Common Press, we have been developing and implementing a program for content reuse, and we’ve found that it can establish new and robust revenue streams for both print and digital products, as well as brand platforms for publishers, their authors, and their books.
Of course, projects of this sort will be especially useful for certain types of publishers (and perhaps impractical for others). Focusing on our high-quality cookbooks and parenting books, we’ve identified four main areas of interest in terms of using our content:
• individual Web sites
• third-party distribution partnerships
• proprietary content platforms
How each of these focus points fits any particular publisher is a matter for internal examination, but it’s helpful to look at the opportunities each presents and at the challenges that will arise with each.
What follows explores the first two.
Interrelated Web Sites Bring Benefits
We’ve invested heavily in an online presence that goes beyond our main Web site, extending to other platforms for our authors and our books. We feel strongly that having a variety of sites for specific books and authors allows us to maximize the potential for our social media efforts and encourages our authors to get involved in the promotion of their books.
The Harvard Common Press has a number of Web properties where we encourage authors to interact with their readers in new ways. Tori Kroop, R.N., author of the popular Joy of Pregnancy, uses her Web site (TheJoyofPregnancy.com) to blog about her work as a birth professional at the California Pacific Medical Center, to post videos related to her involvement on AskParents.com, and to distribute content from the book.
To enhance the author’s online presence, we set up a community where she can interact with her readers and answer questions at AskToriRN.com. We’re pursuing a similar strategy at NotYourMothersCookbooks.com with Beth Hensperger, author of the bestselling Not Your Mother’s series.
Many publishers think of their online social media efforts and blogging in terms of promotional material through which they can sell more books. But both the sites just mentioned have become successful engagement and outreach tools for us. They are useful for content generation (the daily blogs, the video feeds, and so on) and for content distribution (of information from the books).
Rethinking the value of blogging, video creation, and content distribution via individual book/author Web sites that link back to the main publisher site has given us an opportunity to maximize the value of the content in the books, and to generate new content that is more easily findable online by consumers. And the content that’s easier to find has driven consumers back to these sites, raised brand awareness, and generated revenue from content there and from the related books.
Planning for and executing a multimedia strategy with individual Web sites requires either in-house or out-of-house development with a Web developer (or developers). Not every small and medium-sized publisher has access to such resources. If you do, and especially if you do in-house, you’re already ahead of the game. If you don’t, you can take advantage of opportunities for Web site creation that are inexpensive and easy to implement.
One of the most effective moves could be installing a WordPress platform with a URL that represents your book/author (see WordPress.org for more information and detailed instructions). It’s free, and an intern may well have the necessary technical knowhow.
Another solution worth exploring is at SquareSpace.com, which offers customization tools for Web site creation that are robust and easy to implement, with an interface that just about anyone can use. There is a fee for use, but it’s worth it if other options aren’t feasible.
Of course, canned sites such as Blogspot.com and TypePad are options as well, but functionality can be somewhat limited, and they don’t allow much differentiation from the millions of other sites out there. Plus, having a Blogspot.com URL is terrible for search engine optimization and findability purposes, and it looks less professional.
There are two ways to benefit by taking content from existing books and using it in smaller pieces, or chunks. In pieces outside the book, content can be distributed to readers in various ways via digital platforms as a marketing or monetization vehicle. And pieces of chunked content can be reassembled into new books and digital products, making it easier to give new life to backlist content while keeping costs of acquisitions and authorship low.
At The Harvard Common Press, we’re especially interested in setting up systems for chunking content, partly because we do so many cookbooks. In the broadest sense, recipes are quite easy to chunk and distribute online, and they can easily be reassembled as new products, much more easily than content in other genres.
With more than 20,000 recipes in our backlist, we have significant opportunity to double and triple the size of our publishing program without having to contract for new content. New books could be on the best eggplant recipes, grilling chicken, slow cooker recipes, vegetarian meals, and more, and these don’t have to be just in-print; they can also be e-books, apps, or other digital products.
The challenge with chunking content is setting up workflows so that resources are not misappropriated from other projects that have to get done. We’ve found that it’s most efficient to start by identifying the steps necessary for creating a successful chunking program.
First, a publisher needs to understand what content is available in the backlist (having someone from editorial involved can be very helpful). Then the publisher needs to map out the types of books that can be created, bearing in mind both what content is available and the kinds of content that have historically sold well.
Next, resources must be committed to determining where the content currently resides in the backlist and to pulling it out in smaller pieces. Even when the content is pulled from a finished digital file, an editor should skim it, looking for mistakes.
Once the content is in chunks, the publisher has to decide whether to repackage it as new product (in which case someone will need to put all the pieces together and create the new book/e-book) or to find channels online through which to distribute chunks directly to consumers (in which case the next logical step after finding the channels would be beginning to push the chunked content out).
Obviously, design issues arise in connection with repackaging chunked content (especially with highly stylized books), since the pieces of content have been pulled from different books. There’s no easy way to avoid this challenge now, but at some point, as repackaging becomes more common, it may pay to invest in designing several templates, so that text for new chunked products that’s been pulled from different books can be flowed into a standard design.
Currently, it’s worth exploring Web sites that offer help with repackaging. For example, BookRiff.com, now in beta, lets publishers upload content to its site and then build that content into new book products that they can sell to consumers, all from one platform. More sites like this will undoubtedly soon spring up.
A final word on chunking content: As with all new endeavors, publishers have to be sure their contracts with authors give them the necessary rights.
But That’s Not All
The second installment of this series will look at more complex opportunities involving partnerships with third-party digital distribution channels and creation of new content platforms online. Both can be lucrative with the right content, but it takes time to develop them as viable channels. Stay tuned to find out more.
Bruce Shaw and Adam Salomone are with The Harvard Common Press, a Boston-based publisher of cookbooks and books on pregnancy/childbirth. The company was founded in 1976 in Harvard, MA. Bruce Shaw has been the president and publisher for over 30 years. Adam Salomone joined the company more than three years ago and is currently the director of digital initiatives. To learn more, visit harvardcommonpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.