Placing a Digital Book on the Shelf

One of the fun challenges facing The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is getting our digital books noticed. This year, we’ve used social and traditional media, kept the website sharp, circulated a few books for review, and we’ll even do a little advertising for our most recent volume. The key is to get the news of the book out in front of as many people as possible.

For traditional publishers, this involves getting our books on the right book shelf, but since we don’t have the resources or the infrastructure for getting paper books stocked outside of a few very limited outlets, we have to find other ways to get our books on the right digital shelves.  

For The Bakken Goes Boom, we were lucky enough to have some global coverage in the popular media (Slate, Fast Design Co. and the Daily Mail as well as some recent coverage by the more specialized science press. We also got some nice publicity from the University of North Dakota. This coverage certainly raised awareness of the book and contributed to over 500 downloads and continued decent sales, but it remains to be seen if this kind of publicity results in the book getting cited consistently and having an impact in how both the public and scholars understand the Bakken.

The War with the Sioux is the Digital Press’s best seller and received both a proper book review in the public humanities media (in North Dakota History which strangely enough isn’t online!) and some strong word of mouth sales and downloads thanks to the hard work of the translators and their extensive network of local and regional connections. And this event. It’s a thing

Sometime in the next few months, the little guide that Bret Weber and I wrote to the Bakken is scheduled to appear from North Dakota State University Press. We have a website for it already and the hope is to use this book and its publicity to help us market The Bakken Goes Boom as well. As part of this, I have the idea of creating a “Bakken Bookshelf” with links various media – particularly books, but also articles – relevant to understanding the Bakken. Prominent among them would be a link to work by the Petrocultures collective at the University of Alberta, but also books and articles reviewed on my blog. By creating a virtual bookshelf, we can visually link our book to other significant books in the field.

For our next book, Mobilizing the Past, we are partnering with a the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s libraries to host a copy of the book and its chapter on their Digital Commons page (link coming soon!). Digital Commons is both highly visible to search engines, but it also has a kind of institutional imprimatur that will reinforce the academic character of the book and hopefully make it accessible to a wide audience. It will also be available from The Digital Press page and with any luck some future titles (and I have a couple in particular in mind) will help attract readers to the book. Finally, I’ve been talking with the book’s editors and we agree that getting the book up on our various pages will align the book with various scholars’ interests and provide a context for our work.

Situating our work in an appropriate context seems crucial for the long-term success of a book. When the first wave of downloads subsides and the bubble of sales deflates, the real fruits of publishing appear as the book moves into the scholarly or public conversation, gets cited, and circulates. Getting a digital book onto the right bookshelf is an important step to ensure the lasting impact of a work.

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