Every day, publishing is finding new ways to connect books to readers, but few traditional publishers give as much control to their audience as Osprey Publishing, a U.K.–based military history publisher.
“A number of years ago we noticed that the posts on the fledgling Osprey blog that garnered the most feedback and views were posts that discussed our future publishing plans, or that asked for title advice from our customers,” said Mike Ramalho, Osprey’s global sales and marketing manager. “The responses were so fantastic that when we designed a new Web site, two of our central requests of the developer were a drop box where customers could submit titles they would like us to publish, and a book vote that would allow our customers to vote on a potential list of book titles.”
Five years after the book voting feature was introduced, Osprey reports that it has sold over 35,000 copies of books based on customer-generated title suggestions. The book suggestion field (the first step in the process, featured on Osprey’s homepage) gets thousands of suggestions each month, which Osprey reads through. The publisher picks the most popular requests and whittles them down to a list of five titles. The public is then allowed to vote on the titles for 30 days and the winner gets published.
One of its biggest hits so far is The Chaco War 1932–1935 by Alejandro de Quesada, which saw preorders exceed its initial print run. Armies of the Balkan Wars 1912–13 by Philip Jowett has gone back for reprints twice since it was published in April 2011. And the story behind the publication of The Brazilian Expeditionary Force in World War II is even more impressive: the subject took a staggering 58% of the vote (over 10,000 people) in February 2009, but finding an author for a previously unexplored subject proved to be a challenge for Osprey. “We sent out an appeal to our customers asking them if they knew anyone who could write the book—and within days we had been contacted by a couple of Brazilian journalists who had been contacted by one of our customers,” Ramalho explained. “The book was commissioned and published in March 2011 and was one of the top-selling books [in the Men-at-Arms series] for Osprey that year.”
An added benefit of the approach is that the publicity practically takes care of itself. When asked how Osprey publicizes the titles once they’re released, Ramalho said, “This is probably the simplest part of the process; because so much of the feedback about these titles originates from within the Osprey community online, much of our promotion is actually done by our community, who spread the word about books they are particularly excited about.”
Ramalho said that because the titles primarily serve a particular niche within Osprey, the books published through the voting process cater to Osprey’s most ardent fans. “They grow the sense of community and involvement that we have nurtured within our customer base. Our fans love to have the opportunity to become involved in Osprey, and we value their feedback and their commitment hugely.”