Following on from the post about publishers’ websites, I wanted to start looking at some specific sites and find out what they do well… and what they do badly. First up is Angry Robot Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, which I first discovered through a news post on NextRead.
The stated aim of Angry Robot is “to publish the best in brand new genre fiction – SF, F and WTF?!”, and it’s clear that their web presence is central to their imprint’s identity—as it should be.
Technical Stuff & SEO
(Skip this paragraph if you don’t care about tech stuff.)
The site is built on WordPress, and in this respect, it’s a great demonstration of how versatile WordPress can be as a content management system—they’ve really used the pages facility to create something that feels like a full site, rather than a glorified blog. That said, there are some odd things going on under the hood, which severely limit the site’s visibility: the meta descriptions are a wasted opportunity, being auto-generated and a bit mangled, and it looks like they may be accidentally knocking much of their content out of Google with a misplaced “noindex” tag. They’ll need to fix these issues if they want to be discovered through Google searches for their authors, titles, and the subjects of their blog posts. It would also be worth their while to deal with duplicate content issues from their old blog on wordpress.com—which is still outranking the new site. For the moment, Angry Robot have a nice-looking site that people are going to have trouble finding.
The User Experience
If you do find your way to the site, it’s a pretty good design. The primary feature is the blog, which is a great example of a publisher blog: regular posts with a combination of their own news, publishing insights, and genre chatter—I might be inclined to include a little more of the latter. Book and author pages are easily findable through menus but not particularly inspiring—more unique content would be good here, both for users and as linkbait. A search facility will come in handy as the list grows, too. There’s no facility on the site to purchase the books, but to be fair, none of their titles have actually been released yet. I hope they’ll add direct selling when they’ve got something to sell, and really make use of the audience that they’re obviously hoping to build with the site.
Speaking of that audience, I’m wondering who the Angry Robot site is really aimed at. The beauty of a good website is that you can reach and talk to your market as a whole, but this is something that publishers often seem reluctant to do. In this case, a lot of the site is taken up with promoting their “Robot Army”, essentially a glorified PR list. The idea is that bloggers sign up to receive review copies and news. Or, as they put it, “In return for blogging about Angry Robot, our books and our authors, we’ll give you free copies of our books (in physical, audio, or electronic format), interviews and features.” As a blogger/reviewer myself, this phrasing makes me feel a bit dirty and used. If they’re going for the larger blogs, these guys probably won’t be too bothered about joining an “army” to get their review copies. Still, this approach might work with smaller bloggers.
However they wrap their PR material, though, I’d be tempted to bury it a little deeper in the site. Bloggers know how to root out contact info for the titles they’re interested in, and as it stands, I wonder whether the “free books” message might cannibalise their actual sales—it certainly devalues the notion of paying for an Angry Robot title. So they may want to make the front page about the consumers, and leave this material accessible, but not so prominent. The same might apply to the B2B menu option—quite possibly this, and all the PR stuff, could drop into a submenu of “About the Robot”, leaving the rest of the site free to talk more directly to consumers.
Angry Robot as an imprint website is a very interesting move in the right direction, though they may want to clean up the technical issues and make the site more consumer-focused. It will be interesting to see how things evolve when the summer arrives and the first titles are launched.