How are you reading? The challenge of reaching the reader in a digital society

Have you ever stopped to think about how you read? MA Publishing student Scarlett Hermon got a surprising answer when she followed up Masterclass speaker Julia Kingsford’s discussion about how people read…

As co-founder of Kingsford Campbell: Literary and Marketing Agents, former CEO of World Book Night and Head of Marketing at Foyles book chain, Julia Kingsford knows a lot about the challenges of marketing books. The particular focus of her engaging talk was how this can happen in a society where the way people read and receive information is constantly evolving. Julia’s in-depth knowledge and broad overview of the publishing industry was extremely valuable and thought-provoking. She began by establishing the nature of her audience’s interest in the publishing industry. For many of us, myself included, it was mostly editorial, or as Julia put it, ‘the lure of being at the heart of the creation’. In response she pointed out that, from a publisher’s perspective, a great creation is redundant if it doesn’t end up in the hands of a reader; the real challenge is finding a way to bridge that gap, by understanding and anticipating the customer’s needs. Julia is not alone in this focus. This is an issue facing all publishing sectors and there is much relevant further reading, I link to interesting posts at the end.

At this point, I realised how easy it could be to overlook the reader as a key contributor to the success of a book. In this digital age of quick communication and production, combined with daily bombardments of new information, Julia acknowledges that marketing has never been more unpredictable and tricky to navigate. One significant factor is that there’s more competition now than ever before, with vast amounts of content all seeking recognition. Another is the increasing popularity of self-publishing. Given this mass of information and visual stimuli every day, how do publishers get information about new products and services to stick? Julia discussed various strategies, including the importance of author branding and self-promotion, and identifying and knowing your niche markets. Ultimately, however, it seemed to come down to understanding the reader.

Julia Kingsford on Byte the Book's panel The Future of Book Selling in the Digital Age in March 2014 ©Jennifer Mills

Julia Kingsford on Byte the Book’s panel The Future of Book Selling in the Digital Age in March 2014 ©Jennifer Mills

Julia highlighted that the way we read is constantly evolving. I’m honing in on this particular part of the talk because I found the phrase ‘the way we read’ so intriguing. We often speak to each other (sometimes at great length) about what we read, but not how we read. I began thinking about the way I read. I like to think I’m nicely old-fashioned in my enjoyment of a good print book. I don’t own a kindle or an iPad, so I don’t read ebooks. Initially, I felt the way I read now hadn’t evolved much from the days when I was reading Jacqueline Wilson’s colourful paperbacks as a ten year old girl. But then I reconsidered. I do like to read articles and reviews on my phone and laptop, I’ve always found newspapers very stressful to hold onto, and I often use Google Books to dip in and out of chapters or academic publications. In fact, I read from screens daily, flipping between websites and following links down obscure and infinite paths. Even when I’m reading a print book, I like to whip my phone out every so often, just to check a piece of background information that might enhance my knowledge or experience of the text, effectively transforming my book into a hypertext. Our reading experience isn’t often linear, but rather circular and divergent, and now that we expect all the answers to appear in a simple click, we don’t hesitate to push the button.

 Embrace all the avenues of reaching people

So how do authors, publishers, and marketers alike, keep up with our tendencies and expectations? Well, Julia believes publishers need to be fully engaged with readers, which means adapting to their habits and reaching them on multiple platforms. She said, in a recent Q&A, ‘Publishing’s been doing this fascinating shift towards understanding how important direct relationships with consumers are… I think as an industry that we’re going through the most thrilling changes as digital continues to disrupt but above all offer incredible new opportunities.’ Julia believes in embracing these platforms, whether by adding value through an app or interactive text, or utilising the convenience and viral effects of social media to connect readers and get people talking and hopefully buying. Julia is also involved in Valobox – ‘ a browser-based ebook service that helps readers find and read books on any device while enabling publishers to reach readers wherever they are on the web’. Valobox connects the reader to the book but also connects the publisher directly to the reader. From the manual and personal interaction of World Book Night to the utilisation of online platforms, these are all examples of how Julia, and others, can ‘embrace all the avenues of reaching people’. As I listened to Julia, it became clear how truly passionate she is about ‘trying to connect readers with works of great writers’, and she recognises the need for publishers to evolve in order to do so.

Further reading:

ALPSP Awards spotlight on… ReadCube Connect, the HTML5-powered PDF reader that redefines the way readers and publishers interact with content

Publishers, Readers and the End of Booksellers

The co-founder of Wired on how the way we read is changing

Publishing Perspectives on Valobox


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