In the evolving digital marketplace, book publishers will seek to align with social media sites for everything from marketing and promotion to data on members' reading habits—at least, according to speakers at the recent Tools of Change conference in New York. Ivory Madison, founder and CEO of the book-oriented social media site Redroom.com, claims her startup combines the consumer popularity of sites like Facebook, with a focused “author-centric” mission and an infrastructure that can be used as a marketing—and even a retail—platform by publishers who want to connect fans to established and emerging authors.
Launched a year ago, RedRoom.com—named after a White House room appropriated by Eleanor Roosevelt—is described as “Facebook for authors” by Madison, who is out to entice publishers to financially underwrite their authors' presence on the site. RedRoom has about 20,000 members and hosts about 2,000 authors; it has a full-time staff of 12 plus eight freelancers. Madison raised about $2.65 million in capital from investors like Craig Newmark of CraigsList and Chronicle Books CEO Nion McEvoy, and is currently soliciting a new round of investment. Over the next several months, the site will roll out a variety of new features, including friending, group, contest and calendar functions, as well as a retail platform that will allow publishers and authors to sell books directly to the public. “Publishers want to sell, as long as they don't undermine the list price of their titles,” said Madison, who noted that publishers and authors on the site already sell signed or limited editions at premium prices. While the site currently links to Amazon.com and BN.com, the new infrastructure will allow members to designate any retailer to sell books through the site.
Fans and general readers can join Redroom for free, share reading lists, find reviews and follow their favorite authors through the site's blogs, videos and podcasts. The site is organized around prominent authors (who are generally invited to join) as well as lesser-known authors and self-published writers, who are vetted before acceptance. The site has attracted a number of name authors—T. Coraghessan Boyle, Amy Tan, Po Bronson, Jon Stewart—an important element in Madison's business model.
The RedRoom site is divided into a soft hierarchy of different kinds of authors—published, unpublished and self-published—and focuses on their specific needs, Madison said. An author herself—she writes graphic novels for DC Comics—Madison is also a lawyer, who first launched a writing school, Red Room Writing School, before founding RedRoom. “One grew out of the other,” she said. “I wanted something scalable that could serve more people than the school. And I wanted it to be about something I care about—writers and writing.”