Last week we revealed research conducted by Bowker Market Research that showed creating and nurturing online communities were fast becoming a staple within a publishing industry re-focusing on building direct relationships with consumers.

This week we're looking at online communities in practice. At their best, publisher online communities combine the interactive elements of modern gaming, the principles of social media and the community spirit of online forums. They are engaging and immersive platforms built around specific interests and are bringing publisher and reader interactions to new heights. These are just five examples of well conceived and executed projects that have created communities around a series of books, publishing imprint and even individual authors.

1. Pottermore

The Harry Potter inspired social network, Pottermore, brings new reading experiences to the fans of the series through curated ‘moments’ from the books. With new and exclusive content created by author JK Rowling specifically for the site, the Harry Potter community are given extensive insight into the deeper narrative of the characters, locations and history of the HP world. Aimed mainly at children, the site appeals through simple social media-like games, allowing users to brew potions, practice spells, collect house points and take part in wizard’s duels to unlock exclusive content. The site’s success lies in its understanding of the book’s primary audience, giving children the opportunity to become their own characters with their own roles within the story. The author’s partnership with Sony has allowed Pottermore to extend beyond the browser, with 3D mini games available on the PlayStation Home Network. 

2. Osprey Publishing

Specialising in military publishing, Osprey utilise the abundant opinions of their readers to inform commissioning options on new military & historical texts. Over the last few years they have successfully cultivated a community around the discussion of potential new titles. Taking reader demand into account, Osprey has put a high level of importance on publisher/reader relations, taking on a more symbiotic approach to commissioning.

3. Shanda

Shanda Interactive is a Chinese online book and games publisher that have built up a thriving community around episodic book instalments from over 800,000 writers. The model of Shanda Literature, allows readers to read the first few chapters of a novel for free before introducing micro payments for further chapters. It provides a platform for aspiring writers to build up a fan base, and, if popular, can propel them to huge success. Successful authors also use the site to gauge public opinion before going to print with new novels. The Shanda Network operates through three known portals, each targeting different types of readers with different types of content and controls over 90% of China’s online reading market with the majority of content falling between the science fiction and fantasy genres.

4. SF Gateway

For publishers, the main goal of online communities is to build and maintain an interest around a particular imprint, genre or book series. Orion Publishing’s SF Gateway exists as a sister imprint to Gollancz and focuses on science fictions past publications. The site acts as a platform for readers with a passion for classic SF to discuss and recommend authors within the genre. The forum is a prime example of a publisher managing a mini social network with repeating blog posts ‘SF Master Work of the week’ and ‘SF Gateway Readers Choice’ creating talking points within the community and embedding engagement throughout the project.

5. Mills & Boon

The Mills & Boon community pages feature highlighted discussions that encourage ‘Romance HQ’ and M&B readers to share stories, advice and questions on love and life. Every member has their own personal blog, and the option to log their own book reviews. The forum has a number of competitions including ‘The Book Challenge’ where readers log Mills & Boon novels they have read. These facilities are supported by fully customisable user profiles, enhancing the sense of a real world community, online

Online communities often carry their own unique structures; platforms built around a particular interest and designed to appeal to a specific group of like-minded individuals. While the outlets are often different, the aims remain the same. Publishers support for online communities is now at the forefront of their transformation into consumer facing organisations.