Location Infatuation: Where’s the Publishing Angle?

Foursquare vs. GowallaBy Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World

If 2009 was the year when “geo” became a buzzword and gathered momentum, then 2010 is going to be the year when location-based functionality is going to become commonplace — from mobile apps to consumer devices, even to web services are all going to be geo-enabled.

“Will 2010 Finally Be the Year of Location?”, Om Malik

At the Women’s National Book Association‘s BOOK MARKETING ONLINE 2010: A Discussion, WNBA Publicity Chair Susannah Greenberg called location-based social networking (eg: Foursquare, Gowalla) the “next big thing” in publishing.

Kelly Leonard, Executive Director of Online Marketing for Hachette Book Group, tweeted: “@gowalla @foursquare still new enough that experimentation opportunities abound. Limited only to one’s imagination #wnba318”

Yen Cheong, Assistant Director of Publicity for Viking and Penguin Books, added: “@ronhogan wonders if LBSs could be used to build book tours? Interesting idea. #wnba318”

On March 29th, Foursquare announced, via Twitter, that they were “closing in on 725k users & 22 million checkins.”

Just as businesses see a huge advantage to interacting with potential and existing customers (and naysayers) on Twitter, so too will they experience the same advantages on Foursquare, but with even more incentives and a plethora of data at their fingertips.

Foursquare Courts Business Users with Checkin Analysis Features“, Jennifer Van Grove

“Overall, I think it’s definitely the ‘new thing.’  It’s the new way to connect,” says Kate Rados, Director of Digital Initiatives for Chelsea Green Publishing. “Publishers are going to have to get very creative to find a way they can use LBS to connect with their readers. Libraries and bookstores are the ones with the most immediate opportunity here: create special tips, offers for people who check in, rally around events, etc.”

“I use FourSquare,” Rados continued. “I tried Gowalla for a week and, while it was very pretty, I didn’t love it.  I do appreciate their ‘trips’ feature and I think (to Kelly Leonard’s point) Authors/Publishers can create some pretty great plot-themed trips via the service. But with every social media platform, the big rule applies:  if you’re not at least trying it out, you’re already missing the boat.”

Stephanie Anderson, manager of the independent bookstore WORD Brooklyn, said they’ve given Foursquare a shot, but have so far only experienced mild success. “Personally,” she says, “I’ve noticed that most folks I know don’t use it. I feel like I am constantly explaining it. So it clearly hasn’t hit any sort of tipping point even here in Brooklyn.”

Vroman's Bookstore on Foursquare

Click for Larger Image

In Pasadena, CA, Vroman’s Bookstore has planned to give discounts to frequent visitors as well as the “Mayor” – the Foursquare honorific for the user who checks in at a particular location the most often. Patrick Brown, Vroman’s former webmaster, believes LBS is “one of the few social technologies to encourage visits to bricks-and-mortar businesses.”

At the moment, as Rados noted, it does look like bookstores have the most to gain from programs like Foursquare because it’s relatively easy to use and doesn’t require a ton of innovation to incorporate into a marketing program. Rewarding frequent customers is a proven way to encourage people to return, and encourages them to share their visits with their friends.

As for authors and publishers, Anderson offered a suggestion: “One of the ideas I’ve seen bounced around on Twitter that I find intriguing is one of these systems being used to check in to intangibles—for example, checking into THE GONE-AWAY WORLD. Almost a mash-up of Goodreads and Glue, but I don’t think it could happen at the moment.”

Think this idea has potential? Which books would be ideal for promoting this way?

And what other angles does this offer publishers to engage directly with their readers and/or to partner with bookstores and libraries?

Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.

3 thoughts on “Location Infatuation: Where’s the Publishing Angle?

  1. Lindsey Thomas Martin

    ‘One of the ideas… I find intriguing is one of these systems being used to check in to intangibles’: another application of this useful for publishers would be a system that encouraged checking into locations in the landscape of a piece of fiction; e.g. ‘checking into Casiaport Guildhall’. I imagine that there are many of us who know the geography of a fictional landscape or two better than we know our own city: as CS Lewis wrote: ‘I know the geography of Tormance better than that of Tellus’.

  2. Jim Hanas

    I’m with Kelly Leonard that the possibilities are “limited only to one’s imagination.” There is plenty of space for experimentation here, and such experiments are still novel enough to draw fan attention. Just a few ideas:

    1. Checking in to all the locations in a new thriller unlocks a badge, which unlocks a prize. (I would be shocked if someone isn’t already in talks with FourSquare about this, since these are the sorts of arrangements they’ve been making with the likes of Bravo.)

    2. Checking into a bookstore (or nearby) unlocks a sample chapter from an author with an upcoming store appearance, or a staff recommendation list.

    3. An indie press (or association) backs an Indie Books badge in various cities that is unlocked after you check into a roster of local stores. The badge leads to discounts and special offers. Another layer on top of that — which, as a writer, I’m most interested in — would be to have a story by a known writer meted out in installments that would be unlocked at various locations, perhaps bookstores. Like Electric Literature’s Rick Moody Twitter experiment, but on FourSquare. I have no doubt that someone will soon use FourSquare for this sort of storytelling.

    That said, the elephant in the room is check-in fraud, which isn’t so much fraud as a loophole in how FourSquare works. You can check-in anywhere at anytime from anywhere, so someone could complete your scavenger hunt (and claim your incentives) without leaving home. There are ways around this of course — the “map” to participating indie stores may only be availabe in the stores, for example — but it adds another layer when planning these sorts of promotions.

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