Bookcamp: Harper Collins, Authonomy & Book Army

by Suw on January 17, 2009

Harper Collins – Kate Hyde, Mark Johnson.

Authonomy, book with rating new books. Getting agents on board. Going to be using Blurb to move manuscripts into PoD. Big learning curve. Tension about being a large company wanting to find the best books, with the needs of the community. People quesitoning why they’re doing it and why the outcome. What are they going to do with the community, but they see it as much more open ended.

Another project, Book Army, running in tandem, similar to LibraryThing etc. In beta, a database, 6m books/authors in print in the UK and US. Community tools to interact with the books, contact authors, open chat rooms and debates, recommendation systems, based on reviews of other users. if you want to catalogue your library you can do that and get better recommendations, be plugged into the stuff that’s interesting to you.

Already crowded marketplace, but Book Army related to major publisher, also talking to other publishers about how they can pull in their media and info and do it as an open thing. Book Army being run as separate limited company from HC.

Want to know how can they be used in a wider setting, what would you want from it, as it develops.

How do you create unique identifier (URL?) for each book when you don’t control the industry. Will have listings everywhere, but they will treat their Book Army listing as the key one that they fill with consumer content.

Would like to encourage other publishers and authors to contribute, and to encourage authors without a website to fill in their profile.

What tools do they offer to existing communities? Very little.

If you want to avoid solving a problem that no one has, look at other communities and look at what they’ve got and provide what they lack. Every publisher should have a directory of cover images in jpeg and png and provide a standard cover image that people could use in reviews, etc. Publishers are really bad at this, especially DC Comics who sell high-quality graphic novels but never provide cover art, even to Amazon.

In some fan sites, authors are not necessary and may even not be welcome. One author got thrown out of a community about her because they didn’t want to talk to her, but talk about her.

Fan activity is separated by time, in that discussions are left behind in time, but when found by someone who’s new to it, what happens?

Although long discussions threads can be oppressive.

How do you take it to people? Can’t expect everyone to come to the site, so roadmap is to hit the social networks with a proposal that’s engaging to them. Digital Bookshelf, WeRead, looking at what they are doing and how can add to those conversations.

The catalogue listings are all taken from Neilsen, and it’s been hardwork because the original data has errors, duplicate errors and superfluous data. No code to link author to book in original data. Have had to filter all that data out and are increaseingly getting there. Beta has 4000 people on there now, and their activity is cleaning up the data because they know whose book is whose. When you get identifying codes it’ll be much easier for all the sites that do with this.

What about if authors get precious and don’t want their reviews there.

Critical comments about talent is a very difficult area to mediate.

Publicists also worried about this. What to do if talent are worried about bad publicity. Issue about community management. Also, who’s this for – authors or readers?

Revenue through book sales, advertising, commercial relationships, etc. Want small publishers upwards and authors to be able to put their information up.

Issue with social networks is that you sign up and go on, and none of your friends are there, but you’re not getting the value of the network. How are you going to get my friends on there, and how is it valuable if they’re not.

Mapping social graph – want to be able to get friends on e.g. Facebook Friend Connect or copy over info from other similar sites.

In theory, agents might be interested in such a network, but right now are not starved for submissions. One agent is getting about 5000 a year, maybe accept 2 of those, not because they don’t want more, but because there are only two that are any good. Do all slush pile processing in house.

BBC has same thing, sorting through lots and lots of submissions to find the one or two that will be used.

What’s the value in the things in between?

Traditionally publishers were only interested in the books that would sell widely, but now there’s a bit more interest in books that sell a bit less but is there a business model there?

Notion of disposable books and permanent magazines. What is our concept of what to keep or throw away?

Is an expectation in Authonomy that HC are the ultimate arbiters of taste, although that’s not what HC envisioned. Writers are going so far with their project but then end up waiting for something to happen. [Waiting for validation from HC?]

Have to help people a lot with the upload of manuscripts, so older people, typical aspiring author, need help. Not a huge crossover with Facebook.

Do aspiring authors spend a lot of time hanging round and commenting? Yes, and a lot of people just reading. Average visit to Authonomy is over 20 minutes.

Authonomy helps writers, but doesn’t answer the agents’ problems.

Have removed a lot of the barriers, such as the “review before upload” method that a lot of sites use, and find a lot of activity afterwards, that the users engage a lot.

How many people are writing because it’s an agreeable pastime, rather than because they really want or expect to be successful. People often find themselves happy in their own niche and community, they are not always aspiring to fame or fortune.

Why did HC start Authonomy? Felt they needed to get a more direct conversation about books and with book fans. Can do the harder thing, which is deal with the fans, or the slightly easier thing of dealing with the upcoming authors who are banging on their door every day.
Is there a way to create satisfying communities around fan fic. But fan fic are active communities because they’re born on the internet. A recent attempt to build a site for fan fic, but the communities already are sorting themselves out. Fan communities know which authors will be ok with it, and which will not. Is there a need there?

Authors won’t always feel comfortable engaging with people online. A bit like some journalists like audience plural, but loathe audience singular.

Have a moderation company they’ve hired, although it’s not a huge amount of work.

Wiki novel at Penguin, but a surprising little vandalism, and there was no barrier to entry there. Vandalism is probably less of an issue than people imagine.

There are catalysing subjects that attract vandalism.

Have to consider censorship laws, mainly governed by telecommunications law about the ability to speak freely, but there are anti-censorship laws. Bet they haven’t been tested on wikis.

In a community, who exercises power and control?

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