We know book readers are online, but where can we find them? The first place to look is on the major social networks, particularly Facebook. As reported in the May 18 New York Times, Nielsen confirmed that “Internet use for â€˜short-tail’ sites with large audience reach has evolved since 2003. The change is from portal-oriented sitesâ€¦to social networks.”
Facebook v. MySpace
While social networks were defined for a time by MySpace, American audiencesâ€”particularly the audience most likely to purchase a bookâ€”have gravitated primarily to Facebook. Despite its recent tailspin, MySpace remains a vibrant network for users interested in music. But for nearly every other category of interest, Facebook is now number one.
In the last six months alone, Facebook has grown from 50 million active U.S. users to 55 million and gains more everyday. Importantly for publishers, the fastest growing demographic is age 35+. It’s now even bigger than the 18-24 age bracket.
Advertising on Facebook, however, can be a challenge. By design, Facebook hampers our ability to deliver premium ad content and determine relevant location, pushing ads off to the side in an unobtrusive column with a small, single, static .jpg for art and limited room for copy. Facebook’s ability to micro-target means that ads do perform reasonably well on the networkâ€”in line with most online CTRs of .1-.12%–but certainly not as well as they could given the network’s ideal demo for readers.
Verso Digital currently recommends running campaigns on Facebook apps instead of on Facebook itself. Apps keep users within the FB environment and have all the advantages of Facebookâ€”viral connectivity, ease of use, user engagement, and micro-interest ad targeting. But apps offer several unique advantages, including a pool of highly engaged users (and thus increased potential for viral outreach), greater creative flexibility (including flash and video-enabled rich media), and superior adjacency to relevant content. Recent campaigns have shown not only a significantly higher CTR with Facebook apps than with FB itself, but also an even more potentially powerful viral component. One of the most prominent examples of this viral potential is the “Visual Bookshelf” app: every time a reader puts a book on his or her “Visual Bookshelf” or writes a review, that message goes out to all of his or her Facebook Friendsâ€”120 on average. That’s a lot of value for each action taken. And it suggests another kind of answer for publishers and authors to the problem of shrinking book reviews. Neither blogs, GoodReads, or Facebook alone will answer the fill the gap left by disappearing print book review publications. But each represents another strand in the fabric of how readers are making new decisions about what to read next.