6 Questions for Amanda Close of Random House, on launch of book discovery Facebook app BookScout [INTERVIEW]
Worried about Amazon buying up GoodReads? Have no fear: Random House, Inc have launched BookScout a new social book discovery app on Facebook. The app allows readers to create and organize their own digital bookshelves and explore friends’ bookshelves to learn what others are reading. BookScout encourages organic word-of-mouth recommendations as people can share what they’re currently reading with their Facebook friends, tag books they’d like to read, and keep track of books they’ve read. The app also provides personalized book recommendations from all publishers, and includes links to major retailers so people can easily purchase print books and eBooks they’re interested in.
Sophie asked Amanda Close, SVP Digital Marketplace Development, some more questions to find out why the app has been made, what the plans are for future and how the analytics are forming future growth strategies…
1. The whole BookScout system relies on people sharing the books they love and recommending new ones to each other. Did the app come from readers wanting this kind of add on service or did you create BookScout as a way to engage more with your readers and potential new customers?
At Random House we’re constantly thinking about ways we can use technology to connect our authors with readers. Book buyers who once shopped within thousands of feet of retail space frequently now make their potential selections on a 4-inch screen. Given this shift, we are looking at ways to help readers discover new books from the convenience of their computers and mobile devices while making book recommendations that match their personal taste.
We knew that people have been using Facebook as a virtual meeting place to discuss books. Even prior to BookScout, Random House had an extensive Facebook presence, with more than 64 million “likes” across 600 individual pages dedicated to its imprints, authors and titles. However, our team wanted to do more than just maintain fan pages and serve ads. We wanted to make use of all of the incredible data that has become newly available through the social graph to enhance book discovery.
Through surveys of Facebook users who self-identified as book club members we learned that avid readers on Facebook had a need that wasn’t being adequately met. They wanted better book recommendations, and they wanted to know what their Facebook friends were reading. People were talking about books with their friends on Facebook, but they wanted to be able to aggregate this information, to see which books were most popular across their personal network. To solve this challenge, we developed BookScout to explicitly benefit those users who are also booklovers.
2. How useful are you finding the Facebook analytics and how do you think these will impact on your long-term marketing strategy?
The analytics we access via Facebook Insights as well as the analytics we’re collecting via other sources are absolutely core to our strategy for improving and promoting BookScout. We track the app’s performance (installs, engagement, virality) on a daily basis, and use the data we collect to prioritize feature enhancements, shape our publicity and marketing messaging, and identify target audiences for paid advertising. Facebook Insights provide us with some great information about general app usage and demographics, while we’re using other tools to track some more unique key performance indicators. For example, we track specific actions like “want to read,” “currently reading,” “have read,” and tie those actions to books and authors. We also use social media monitoring tools to track mentions of BookScout across Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and online news media, and to find influencers in each of these spaces and ways to tailor our marketing and publicity messages for stronger resonance.
3. The stats seem to indicate that there is a very high engagement, average users spending 7 minutes and a 63% return rate. Why do you think it has been so successful and all in the short time since the launch in January?
BookScout users tell us that using the app is an addictive experience. Avid readers love to see what their friends are reading and share what they love to read themselves. A typical visit to BookScout involves browsing recommendations, checking out what your friends are reading, and tagging books you’re reading, want to read and have read. The average Facebook member logs onto the social network numerous times a day and many of those visits equal time spent on BookScout.
4. How does it work with adding other books from other Publishers? And were there any fears or tense moments when you had to decide if you would only make this for Random House Publications?
One of our goals with BookScout is to aid book discovery for the entire industry. Readers look for a book by author, title, or subject – not by publisher. To provide an authentic social book discovery experience we had to make BookScout publisher-agnostic. To accomplish this goal, we started with the Random House catalog of books and then layered in data from other publishers using industry book catalogs and databases. The result is a recommendation engine that includes over three million titles, which are accompanied by book covers, descriptions and links to booksellers.
5. Running a successful app via Facebook must come with some challenges, especially being tied into third-party software updates. How do you cope with Facebook changing its platform/delivery mechanisms? And what advice to other publishers do you have when working with third parties in this way?
BookScout is supported by a small in-house corporate development team that is in communication with Facebook and also monitors trends to keep up with changes to the platform and technology. Our developers work hard behind the scenes to make fast, real-time updates to improve the BookScout user experience. We have been fortunate to work with Facebook as they updated the timeline and About page to better incorporate lifestyle apps such as BookScout that highlight what people are reading. Our mindset since our January launch has been that you can’t expect to just create an app, launch it, and then ignore it in favor of other projects. Our mantra is to always be prepared to make changes to the app at a moment’s notice to meet the needs of you audience and evolve with the network’s platform.
6. What will you be doing in the near future to make sure the users continue to use BookScout over other discovery apps?
We plan to continuously update BookScout to reflect user feedback and provide a fantastic social book discovery experience. We recently launched a tablet version because our users wanted more access to the app on-the-go. At this time, we’re working on a mobile version to make the app even more accessible across all devices. As BookScout evolves, we’ll continue to add social functionality to place book discussion front and center on our users’ Timelines. In the future, we’d love to learn more about how BookScout is being used and how the app could evolve to serve particular needs. For example, if book clubs, or moms, find it useful, we can explore the various ways to serve their specific interests.