Literary consultant Janette Currie reviews Canongate's new website Canongate.tv for FutureBook: I heard Canongate was remodelling their superb Meetatthegate website I was concerned. I really liked the old site, not just because it was different but because it offered a real sense of customer engagement and easy navigation to find all of their books, including new releases, backlists and Scottish classics. I also liked how Canongate created a platform where anyone could talk about any book not just their titles. It wasn’t perfect, though. Company information was hard to locate and writers had little information about how or where to submit their manuscripts.
The new and improved site, Canongate.tv, is innovative and unique. It’s also fun and interactive. Where available, author ‘channels’ are connected to youtube book-trailers by Tandem Film, among others, and there are links to some, but not all, author websites. Writers will be pleased to find succinct and clear submission information on the ‘about’ page. Trade and press links are on the home page and the catalogue is easy to find and download. The minus point is for where reviews have been pasted in but not proofed. Overall, the sparkling new site makes excellent use of converging multimedia, such as video-text links.
Books are grouped by genre and also under quirky headings, such as ‘for a journey’, ‘to give to a friend’, for those spontaneous purchases where guidance is welcome. It’s sad, though, that poetry is tucked between essays and TV tie-ins instead of prominently in the main books section. But, and it’s a big but, while the design is clean, simple to use and eye-catching, the site isn’t designed for easy searching and has glaring omissions and technical errors. The best way to show the problem is to take you with me through a book search. Say you want to find crime writer Louise Welsh’s latest book but can’t remember its title. You’d be hard pressed to find it without going through all of her other titles on the site. For a bibliophile this is not a bad thing, but it’s time consuming and frustrating to be forced to go to the checkout point for every book Canongate have published by Louise Welsh to find its bibliographic details. (For the record, Naming the Bones was published on 2nd February this year). Taking the search the other way, by author, is just as needlessly difficult. And if an author doesn’t have a book-trailer, there’s no additional information or even a link to their website from the author page. As it happens, Louise Welsh has an excellent website with book information on the front page. But shouldn’t her publisher tie them together? Canongate has a strong Scottish classics section but the new site seems to have forgotten about some of them. I couldn’t find a copy of James Hogg’s classic 1824 novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, including the new Canongate edition with Ian Rankin’s introduction. The search function for Hogg brings up an author page with an incorrect note that ‘there are no books by this author.’
The search-functionality problem continues with contemporary authors too. The front page proudly announces, rightly, that Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie is nominated for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. The link opens to a page containing just the title, a paragraph on the nomination and a link to the Man Booker website but as there’s no further information, if, like me, you didn’t take a note of who wrote the book before opening the link, you’d have to backtrack. A side link is targeted to rights agents rather than readers so that if you want to find author or bibliographic information you need to go into the site proper. Even then, it’s hard to locate the book. It isn’t listed under the general large ‘Books’ button, either alphabetically or by release date. To find it, you need to look in the individual genre buttons under fiction, historical fiction, or bestsellers. The simple search function opens in a ‘syntax error’.
Social Connection: 9/10
Canongate.tv is on the button with excellent social connections. There are links to Facebook, Twitter, youtube, a calendar of events, and a G+1 function. There’s no link, however, to the World Book Night website; an odd absence, given Canongate’s support of this global annual event.
Customer Engagement: 6/10
The potential is here for close customer engagement. However, for all that Canongate.tv is well-connected socially, currently, they don’t back it up with good or frequent customer engagement. @canongatebooks has over 8k followers but only follow 216 and tweet infrequently, giving limited scope for interacting, creating debate or engaging bloggers in bookish discussions. The Facebook account has 1696 followers but is used for updates rather than direct customer engagement. The last piece of ‘news’ was posted on 2nd August while the last update on both the Facebook account and the website’s blog was on 22nd August so that they haven’t informed those customers who don’t follow them on twitter of the news that Jamrach’s Menagerie is a Richard and Judy Book Club autumn title.
To sum up. Canongate.tv looks superb and revolutionary and has great potential but current problems with user-functionality need to be addressed. And time will tell how well and with what frequency Canongate take the opportunity to fully engage with customers through the website’s new reader review facility, news stream and blog.
Score – 30/40