Publishers' online communities set to double by 2015

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The number of publisher-owned online communities is set to more than double over the next two years, according to research released by Publishing Technology at The London Book Fair.

The study, conducted by Bowker Market Research, a service of ProQuest affiliate Bowker, found that two thirds of responding publishers already host reader communities, and that this is set to rise to over 90 per cent over the next two years. A quarter expect to have seven or more networks up and running by 2015, with many respondents predicting a huge growth in the number of online communities for their company, from a current average of 2.1, to more than five over the next two years.

The survey, which included UK and US publishers across trade and academic sectors, revealed that trade publishers are currently most engaged in this area with 86 per cent of respondents owning an online community in some shape or form.

The study also revealed that 84 per cent of publishers felt their spending on online communities would increase in the next two years with only 14 per cent envisaging expenditure remaining stagnant. 64 per cent of publishers with online communities were convinced that their investment in this market is already paying off and a further 24 per cent believed it would do so in the short term.

In addition, 73 per cent of all the publishers interviewed felt that online communities helped or would help them to engage better with their audiences.

In the academic and professional publishing space, 40 per cent of publishers said that increasing knowledge and understanding of customers was a key benefit, whilst 40 per cent felt increasing content usage was a priority. Although currently only 16 per cent of all respondents viewed online communities as viable direct sales channels, the formats that have benefited most from online community activity are e-books for trade publishers (40 per cent) and online resources for academic publishers (67 per cent).

Jane Tappuni, business development director at Publishing Technology, commented: 'Online communities are far more than a channel for selling books, these results send a clear message that both trade and academic publishers want to use these platforms to establish closer relationships with their core readers, be it to communicate with them directly or to better understand their needs.'