On Tuesday 5th April I was delighted to be part of a small gathering at the Guardian offices in London, where we were shown a preview of the new Guardian Books website. I was not sure what to expect; having seen the brilliant work that was done on the Guardian Children’s Books pages, I knew I’d be impressed, but I was still very pleasantly surprised by what I saw.
There has been a lot of talk lately of how social media and social networking are changing the book industry, and the possible negative consequences for book journalism. Well, the Guardian won’t be falling victim to this trend. In a brave, bold and forward-thinking gesture, the Guardian’s book team have recreated their website with a new social networking twist. Now the website is not just about accessing and reading, but rather it encourages interaction and contribution. Over nibbles, fruit, cakes and beverages, the Guardian Books team, along with one of the techs from the Quality Assurance department, explained to us the main features of the site, some of which I will outline here:
The new website will have a mammoth database which holds the details of every book with a 13 digit ISBN published in the English language. Each of these pages will have a brief synopsis of the book and, where relevant, any reviews or editorial content that both the Guardian and the Observer have produced on that book. For some books, of course, there won’t be any coverage (be fair, they are amazing but they cannot review every single book written in English) but that is where we, the readers, have a role to play.
With this new site, readers will be able to write their own reviews for the titles on this database. The power that this gives the readers is incredible: not only can the reader engage with, and challenge, the journalists’ point of view, but they can also draw attention to books they passionate about, but which may not have any coverage from the Guardian team. Effectively, when this site is underway and has enough users, readers will actually be able to influence the coverage that the editorial team gives to its books.
The new site will also have pages for authors, incorporating a short biography and a bibliography, and linking together all the editorial coverage for that author from throughout the Guardian network. As with books, there will be some authors who have less editorial coverage than others, and again, that is where the readers have the power to make a difference.
The site also incorporates other features that can be seen on all good book-related community sites. For example, users will be able to add books to reading lists, such as: Books I have read, Books to be read, Favourites etc (the actual list names may differ), and you will be able to share these lists with other users. Through user-to-user interaction, the website hopes to provide a human book-recommendation system, and strengthen the feeling of community.
Reassuringly, along with all these new features, the website has maintained at its core what is probably its most important feature, and that which differentiates it from other book-related social networking sites: good quality book journalism by trusted and respected professionals.
The Guardian Books team made it clear that the new website is still very much a work in progress, but there is no doubt in my mind that they are taking steps the right direction. At the end of the main presentation we were allowed to ask questions and make suggestions , and it is clear from the answers given that, as the project develops, this site will be up to par with, if not better than, the most popular book community sites.
The Guardian has shown that it really is in tune with the current trends in the book industry and social media, and in tune with what readers want. With all the plans that the team have for this site, I think we can confidently say that the Guardian Books team has handled the challenges and opportunities that social networking presents, and has set an example for others to follow.
I am very grateful to the team for allowing me to come along to the preview, and I look forward to the launch of this new site, and to making my contribution to raising the profile of an author who I adore and admire, but who lacks recognition. More on that to follow.....