A survey sponsored by Publishing Technology on the role online communities are playing in the marketing efforts of U.S. and U.K. publishers found that 69% of publishers host at least one reader community, with that figure expected to rise to about 94% in 2015. Online communities are much more likely to be used by trade publishers compared to academic/professional publishers. The survey, conducted this March, found that 86% of trade publishers are already using online communities, while less than half of academic/professional publishers are.

By 2015, all but a tiny minority of trade publishers expect to have online communities, and 90% of academic/professional publishers expect to be hosting communities. In 2015, 24% of all publishers expect to be operating seven or more communities, up from 12% in 2013. The average of communities hosted per publisher is projected to rise to 5.0 in 2015 from 2.1 this year.

Social networking is the most important aspect of using online communities for trade houses, followed by the interaction between authors and readers. For academic/professional publishers, online communities are seen most useful for fostering collaboration and for professional networking. To date, all publishers believe increased engagement with their audience and a better direct relationship with customers are the two most important benefits of online communities, followed by increasing a publisher’s knowledge of its customers. Online communities provided publishers with a way of striking up a more rapport with their audiences, noted Jane Tappuni, business development director at Publishing Technology.

While 62% of surveyed publishers said they sell products through their communities, only 16% viewed online communities as a viable direct sales channel. E-books were seen as the format benefiting the most from online communities, although online resources were the biggest beneficiaries for academic/professional publishers.

The majority of publishers, 64%, reported that their investments in creating online communities have already paid off. Only 12% of publishers said they aren’t sure if creating online communities will pay off over the long term.

Publishing Technology commissioned the research to quantify its observation of a growing trend, to further understand the reach and commitment among publishers to online communities, and whether it reflects an experiment or viable business model. The survey, originally released at the London Book Fair, was conducted by Bowker Market Research and based on responses from 49 trade and academic publishers in the U.S. and U.K.