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Inside Oxford: Book Widgets and Book Selling 2.0

I am pleased to introduce Corey Podolsky (bio at the bottom) who will, in the upcoming months, help us decipher some of the issues surrounding digital publishing and marketing. Corey is an Oxford insider but his opinions differ from Evan Schnittman’s. I think it is helpful to know that while we all work together at Oxford, we also all have different visions for the future. Check back tomorrow for Evan’s response.

What do Amway, MySpace and Oxford University Press have in common?

Amway is famous for its viral business model, recruiting thousands (perhaps tens of thousands?) of people globally to sell its products, each joining as independent contractors tasked with selling products and expanding the sales force by receiving commissions from subsequent recruit’s sales.

For Oxford University Press, social networking sites like MySpace may prove to be an equally dynamic and expanding community of independent sales reps.

A quick search of MySpace finds many hundreds of references to OUP authors. A small sample include: David Hackett Fischer (111), Bart Ehrman (264), Tariq Ramadan (75). While these numbers may not seem particularly high, they represent hundreds of self-proclaimed topic-specific enthusiasts who, unbidden by Oxford University Press, promote OUP’s books to perhaps thousands more with similar interests. Multiply this across the tens of thousands of OUP authors and contributors and we are talking about a veritable army of virtual sales reps.

In a Web 1.0 world we might ask those MySpace profiles to add a “buy it” link to purchase books directly from OUP.com/US. As incentive, we might offer commissions on sales derived from the referring links.

But this is Web 2.0 and models for connecting Book Publishers with potential purchasers are changing.

In late February, HarperCollins launched “Browse Inside” and Random House launched “Browse and Search”. These “widgets” – and what they represent – may have a major impact on the future of book marketing and sales, especially if these services become industry-wide platforms that other Publishers can use for their books as well.

A simple explanation of the book widgets is that they offer functionality similar to Amazon’s Search Inside the Book; although, unlike Amazon’s Search Inside which is only available on the Amazon.com website, the RH and HC book widgets are designed to function seamlessly on just about any website, including social networking sites like MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, etc. This essentially means that virtually any website can add “Search Inside”-like functionality to its pages.

From a Publisher’s point of view, this has the potential to alter how books will be sold and marketed. Especially given that the following issues have already been considered:

  1. The widgets are Flash based, thus offering complete protection against piracy and unauthorized copying and use of the book’s content.
  2. Statistics not only identify the number of sites displaying any particular book, but access to any book can be modified or adjusted at any time by simply removing the book from the service.
  3. As the functionality of the widgets mature, each Publisher will be able to set specific business models for each book (ie, how much of a book can be viewed and at what cost).

The benefits bear repeating: Unlike Google Books, Amazon’s Search Inside the Book, or Macmillan’s BookStore where visitors can only view book content within the closed walls of the respective sites, The RH and HC book widgets allow book content to display on just about any website — in a secure format, with tight controls governing which sites have access to which books and, eventually, with flexible business models governing how much of a book can be viewed at what cost.

If an e-book device is ever introduced that can rival the experience of reading a book in print, these book widgets could one day represent how all books are purchased and read – but that’s a different story for a different time. In the mean time, I’m off to MySpace to see what books people are recommending!


corey.jpgCorey Podolsky is OUP’s Vice President of Technology for the Academic and USA Divisions overseeing end to end technology initiatives spanning Digital Content, Ecommerce, Customer Management, Production Systems, Back-office/ERP and IT Infrastructure and Support. Corey is a frequent speaker at Media and Publishing conferences, sits on various Book/Technology related committees and has served as an adjunct instructor at New York University’s Center for Publishing. (Full disclosure: Corey is a member of the DPMS, a committee set by the AAP to draft industry standards for digital repositories of book content.)

Recent Comments

  1. ibofightback

    Actually, the Amway model has attracted over 4 million people who renew their membership every year. No more than 10-20% of those are actively out promoting Amway products, but it’s still one hell of a big marketing group. 1st level “affiliate marketing” which attempted to take the same model online tends to give small returns. Companies that try to setup multi-level compensation find it’s way harder than it looks to develop a setup that is fair and economically sustainable. Book type affiliate programs like Amazon are single level and notoriously difficult to actually make any meaningful money with. If however you earned a percentage on what others you introduced to the idea, and so on and so on – well, Alticor (Amway’s mother company) paid out something like $2 billion dollars to people for doing that last year, with quite a number of individuals bringing in 7 and 8 figure incomes. So it’s possible, but I don’t see it happening.

  2. [...] Podolsky has written an excellent essay, Book Widgets and Book Selling 2.0 that clearly explains the thinking behind the large scale repository efforts underway at a few [...]

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