For more than a year, a startup company whose backers include Andrew Barlow, founder of the online competitive intelligence company Hitwise, has been working with HarperCollins to develop and refine a method to help publishers use mobile devices to connect with readers. Started in Australia but with an office in New York, that company, QMCodes, is now hoping to turn its link.me platform into an industry standard. Antony McGregor Dey, QM founder and CEO, has been in discussions with most of the major houses over the past several months; in addition to HC, he expects to have at least two other large trade houses signed up to use link.me before the end of the year.
The link.me platform began life as QR (or quick response) codes and had been primarily used by HC to promote titles to teens, most notably for Lauren Conrad's L.A. Candy (PW, Sept. 21, 2009). Link.me works in two ways: through a 2D bar code that can be accessed through smartphones, and a text message service. QM places on book jackets both the bar code and the texting address linked to a mobi site developed by the publisher that provides a variety of additional information about the book and author in the form of videos, trailers, and interviews. Since HC has been using link.me, participation has increased as awareness of 2D bar codes has grown, says Colleen O'Connell, director of online marketing for HC's children's division.
The company is using link.me to collect data to help it build a database of its customers. Among the customer information that is collected is the type of mobile device, the carrier, and the user's location; the more times the same user accesses the code the deeper the profile becomes, says Dey. Knowing the type of book a customer bought makes it possible to promote similar titles, O'Connell says, either through updates on the sites or, more frequently, through text messages. Knowing where readers are makes it possible to alert them to when and where a favorite author of theirs might be in town, said an executive with one of the other houses who didn't want to be named until a contract is signed. Making the additional content entertaining and informative is key to keeping readers engaged, both O'Connell and Dey agree. "You have to think about the audience when creating content," O'Connell says. Text messages to readers who bought L.A. Candy, for example, received fashion tips. "The user experience must be a good one to keep people engaged," Dey advises.
Using link.me is a natural for reaching the teen market, especially girls, who travel with their mobile phones and who view text messages "as social currency," O'Connell notes. But HC is using link.me for some adult titles as well. It used the platform to promote Superfreakonomics and is using it in its pre-pub promotions for Practically Radical by William Taylor. HC is creating a branded mobi site for the title and author that can be accessed through codes placed on business cards and in speaker brochures. The new content will include lists from the book, companies profiled, an excerpt, ordering information, early reviews, and Twitter and blog feeds. Since Taylor has an extensive speaking schedule before the book is released January 4, 2011, HC believes using link.me is an effective way to reach people already interested in what he has to say.
As HC has become more familiar with link.me's capabilities, it is exploring more e-commerce options. One avenue O'Connell is considering is adding discount coupons that could be redeemed at a retailer. Dey notes that by identifying the type of device a reader has, link.me can make it easier to sell a customer the right type of e-book.
The costs for publishers to use link.me are a onetime setup fee per book, a service fee, and, depending on volume, a traffic fee. QM provides publishers with analytical tools allowing them to create their own reports and to manage the data themselves. Dey believes books can be publishers' most effective advertising vehicles. Publishers, he notes, sell hundreds of thousands of copies of a particular book, but have no data on who is buying it. The link.me platform, which he calls Reader Relationship Management, enables them to build robust databases about who is buying their books. Dey is confident enough in link.me that he is adding staff to the New York office to help him reach a not-so-modest goal—to get link.me used on every new book.
To try out some QR codes for yourself, see page 20 of this week's print issue of PW, or download a pdf version of our e-reader guide.