Penguin Random House's efforts to pivot to a new, digital normal are some of the broadest in the publishing business thus far, and its #BooksConnectUs initiative, which will turn two months old on May 20, is its connective tissue. Announced by PRH US CEO Madeline McIntosh in March, the initiative aims to create a digital space for readers to "come together online and share their love of books."
The initiative, McIntosh wrote in her note, was "inspired by our recently created employee outpost on Facebook, where colleagues working remotely connect with one another and discuss what they are reading, streaming, cooking, and more." She added: "Our hope is that #BooksConnectUs will project this same energy and intimacy—for books and for community—into the world and provide us all with moments of connection, hope, and, dare I say it, joy."
The project began, the publisher said, by sharing internal book recommendations from its internal "Igloo Outpost" group on Facebook via its social media platforms. "The group was formed on our first remote workday, as a sort of virtual watercooler," Sanyu Dillon, PRH’s executive v-p of marketing strategy and consumer engagement, told PW. "The energy in the group was palpable from the start."
Reader interest, and interaction, piqued quickly, Dillon said. "Our readers have really rallied around the message—the social reach has been upwards of 70 million since we launched in March—and we’ve seen some incredibly inspiring, uplifting posts. Many of our authors, from Elizabeth Gilbert to Margaret Atwood to John Grisham, have shared their recommendations, as well as many of our bookseller partners."
The initiative has a sort of catchall resonance, and as a result, many of PRH's other digital efforts seem to fall under the umbrella by default. A new video put out by the publisher this week, for instance, incorporates video footage from many of the digital efforts across PRH departments and divisions. "We’ve built quite a bit of programming around #BooksConnectUs since its inception, including a virtual events page, a podcast series, and many smaller initiatives, and there continues to be support from divisional platforms across Penguin Random House," Dillon said. "It’s been inspiring to watch the company come together during this time to amplify a singular, powerful message.
Dillon sees the initiative as one that will continue at the publisher even after the pandemic—not only because it has resonated with readers, but because it has provided a contextual reframing of the work of publishing internally as well. "We are our readers," Dillon said. "We saw a spark of something inside our Penguin Random House community and knew it would move our readers because it moved us. You see this all the time in publishing, but usually it’s on a title-by-title level rather than around a singular message." She added: "It’s hard to plan beyond the next few months, but we’ve already started rolling campaigns and moments into #BooksConnectUs, and imagine it will continue to grow, evolve, and change as we return to some semblance of normalcy."