October 30, 2013

Penguin Random House acquires Figment

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Figment, a site for teenager writers with 300,000 members, was acquired by Penguin Random House yesterday. (Remember when Penguin released Book Country and Pearson bought Author Solutions last year?) Figment’s deal is a bit of a headscratcher: just last year, the company bought a rivaling site from HarperCollins called Inkpop.

Dana Goodyear of The New Yorker and Jacob Lewis, formerly of The New Yorker and Condé Nast Portfolio, founded Figment together in 2010. Lewis is now at Penguin Random House as the vice president and publishing director of Crown/Broadway/Hogarth.

“Random House Children’s Books’ new relationship with Figment supports our ongoing strategy and increasingly important efforts to communicate and engage directly with our readers,” said Barbara Marcus, the president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books.

What does Penguin Random gain from buying this young adult writing community? They’ll have the opportunity to promote their own titles through a social media platform, an can gather some data about their users’ YA reading habits. It might be a defensive move — Amazon could have gobbled up Figment the same way it ate Goodreads. Some articles, like Carolyn Kellogg‘s in the LA Times, go so far as to suggest publishers could scout these sites for talent:

First, it allows the publisher to engage directly with readers, something publishing houses have typically left to booksellers….

Second, it gives publishers a connection to the content, a way to reach into the vast sea of amateur writers and find the stories that are bobbing to the surface. Penguin, which merged with Random House earlier this year, has a similar adult, genre-focused site, Book Country. Both create, in effect, farm teams of writers that can be pulled up to the big leagues when they’re ready — without the intercession of an agent, perhaps, another disruption of the classic publishing business model. Although, with Figment’s acquisition by Random House, it may show that having a community-writing website may be the new normal.

Suggesting a book deal might be in the cards is a smart way to draw new users, whether or not the company’s editorial staff is actually combing through the site for new writers. Other publishers may be tempted to buy self-publishing platforms of their very own, for marketing or for research — and when they do, we’ll keep you updated.

 

Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.

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