June 8, 2016
HarperCollins launches program to connect authors with readers via Facebook Live
by Kait Howard
This week, HarperCollins launched a daily program of live author presentations that make Reddit’s Ask Me Anything series seem downright old fashioned.
The Wall Street Journal’s Jeffry A. Trachtenberg reports that the publisher has teamed with Facebook Live—a video streaming application—to enable “readers to interact with its writers through real-time video and written questions, helping authors expand their reach beyond local bookstore events.”
In a press release, HarperCollins outlined an ambitious program schedule: new author presentations will be streamed five days a week, with each day dedicated to a particular subject area, from self-help to food to history to psychology to the writer’s craft. Live streams of book events from around the country will be supplemented with online-only author presentations. The Facebook Live app allows audience members anywhere to submit questions in real time, which the publisher hopes will foster participation from around the world. Perhaps more importantly, author video will remain posted on HarperCollins’s Book Studio 16 Facebook page for viewing later.
While the program seems like a huge undertaking, HarperCollins senior vice president and director of creative development Lisa Sharkey suggested that the flexibility of Facebook’s streaming technology would keep it from becoming too burdensome for participants (or the publisher). “The beauty of Facebook Live is that we can produce it in our studios or authors can do it themselves directly from a Facebook app on their smartphones,” she told Trachtenberg.
The initiative could ignite renewed discussion about the ideal outcomes of author appearances. As we’ve discussed previously on MobyLives, there are varying opinions about the value of taking questions from the audience at literary readings. And while it’s hard to imagine event attendance decreasing once readers can just opt to watch the video later (Sharkey was careful to note that she wasn’t concerned the live streams would hurt event attendance), one wonders if the particular intimacy of a bookstore setting could be diluted by being broadcast to the world. Will authors prepare differently for a video appearance? Will audiences be more or less engaged? Will the program be reserved for authors with notably active fan bases, like HarperCollins’s Dorothea Benton Frank — who was one of the first authors to be featured in the program — or will emerging writers have an equal opportunity to share their perspectives? The rest of the industry will surely be watching to see how it all works out.
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.