"Pictures for the American People"

The Norman Rockwell mini-site includes information about the first ever coast-to-coast comprehensive exhibition of the art of Norman Rockwell, featuring more than 70 of his most endearing oil paintings, the exhibition schedule (now in Chicago until May 21st), a slide show with 9 sample images, and links to related books.

Visit the Norman Rockwell Mini-site

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Feature

Abbeville Press Online: Presenting a Stunning Image

Innovative art book publisher transfers its books' stunning images to websites designed to entertain customers and inspire sales.
Founded in 1977, Abbeville Press is a renowned publisher of art and illustrated books, with headquarters in New York and offices in Paris. The company believes that publishing illustrated books is a distinct specialty, requiring exacting standards of editorial, design, and production savoir-faire.

When Abbeville's "Film and Fashion of The Oscars" website came to our attention during Oscar season last month, we were so impressed with its clever function and humor that we got in touch to see who was responsible for the magic. We asked Webmaster Sarah Nitterauer about that project and about Abbeville's approach to marketing via the Web.

IP: Describe your creative process -- how does the message travel from editorial to marketing to potential book buyer?

SN: The aim of the website is to present our illustrated books through a central online catalog and also through specially designed mini-sites that focus on a single title or a group of titles that have some special appeal.

The central online catalog is an amalgam of content that already exists. We want to give the user a variety of messages to sift through, to suit whatever style of information gathering and whatever purpose their site visit may be. So, Abbeville's marketing message from the jacket flaps or print catalog is flanked by messages from the review media, the author's introductory message, the book's table of contents, and representative images and their captions. Supplementing these messages are newsletter sign-up forms, links to related sections of the site, and a standard navigational scheme with links to important documentation. I hope the overall design and performance of the site itself conveys the notion that Abbeville is committed to providing an engaging and dependable online experience and ultimately a trustworthy shopping experience as well. IP: Tell us more about the mini-sites and their function.

SN: The mini-sites are set off from the catalog, not to be constrained by catalog templates and style sheets. The catalog may provide a solid framework for any title but it can't let each title shine to its fullest. Through a mini-site a title really asserts that it deserves a distinct homepage of its own. A mini-site may be designed to reflect the unique look of the actual book, or its design may center on a theme that links a group of books together. Certain content may be excerpted because it's especially well-suited to online presentation. For instance, our Magic Flute mini-site offers a scene-by-scene tour of the illustrated libretto that matches its illustrations and libretto excerpts to perfectly timed RealAudio clips from the music CD that comes with the book. The user definitely comes away from the mini-site knowing what the book-and-CD package has to offer.

IP: In your Academy Awards mini-site, you tied in some loosely related books, such as books on ladies' shoes and Champagne. Any anecdotes about how these associations were made?

The Oscars mini-site began as a focus on film books and fashion books--I think that connection was made quite quickly--but only late in the production process did someone have the idea of also associating our Champagne Guide with the group. It was slipped into the site seamlessly. Yes, it definitely follows that the more creative the associations--which we try to forge in our mini-sites and throughout our main online catalog--the more of an adventure the user's experience becomes.

The decision to highlight certain books results from the brainstorming of a three-member web team (an internet publicist and salesperson, a production and marketing assistant, and myself), with input from across the company, in particular from Abbeville's CEO Bob Abrams, who has been captivated by the potential of the internet since the mid-1990s and exceptionally clear-minded about the whole thing. Bob has been very committed to exploring sales and marketing opportunities on the internet for a long time, and he continues to make our endeavor a priority. His guidance and support are crucial.

A certain amount of advance planning is involved, and we always keep in mind the major holidays and seasonal happenings, but spontaneity and swift execution are the reigning tenets here. The production schedule of a web project can be so compressed and the production process itself so free-form that ideas may be implemented immediately and revised until they work.

IP: How do you attract new users to your sites?

SN: The matter of attracting potential book buyers to the site is one we are constantly working on. Our current marketing efforts involve reciprocal linking, content trade, and publicity. Our mini-sites are particularly marketable to other sites that are seeking quality content to suggest to their readers. When mini-sites contain content of value and offer an attractive and fun browsing experience, they may become destinations in and of themselves, attracting audiences that have already gathered in places on the internet to communicate about their interests. We just have to get the word out about our offerings.

IP: There are some real fun, hi-tech features available at your sites--postcards, quizzes, etc. What's the key to making a whiz-bang site? Is it tricks and technical knowledge, or is it purely spending the big bucks? Are there ways to add pizzazz to a site without investing a fortune?

SN: The fun stuff is purely the result of tricks and knowledge, and the ideas for them have come from the experience of being web users for a long time and making an effort to stay tuned to trends in consumer websites. Our investment dollars have instead gone into the digitization of content, our database system, and the staff itself.

Rule Number Two is to give users lots of choices, but Rule Number One is to make the choices appealing! While some small publishing companies or independent authors may not have the resources to build highly complex websites, you can put together sites, however technologically simple, that have the highest quality information about what you publish, and have usable, accurate links to your e-mail addresses and contact information.

Actually, there really are no rules at all, save for providing up-to-date information and good customer service. What content you make available, and how you present it will reflect the meaning of your site, and there are no rules on what that can or should be.

For us, the underlying premise with us is to make sure that we convey the essence and personality of our companies and the messages of each book we publish. This personality may come across through the tone of the copy, or it may be the graphic design of the site. Abbeville.com tries a graphic approach, using larger-sized illustrations than commonly found in online bookstores to suggest the size and heft of our books, and employing a classical old style typeface alongside popular screen fonts to convey our art book roots. But these days simplicity is beautiful and modern. Users will not scoff at a site just because it doesn't fill every pixel of the screen with content.

IP: Are you saying that you don't have to spend lots of money and go really high-tech to have an effective site, as long as your personality comes across and has accurate information?

SN: As many big budget sites have realized, you can spend tons of time and money creating a multimedia site that jumps this way and that, but once something--anything!--goes wrong, the customer is going to think twice about using your site again. Web users expect an extremely high level of service across the whole experience, from the functionality of the website to the quality and attentiveness of the online customer support staff. They're awfully demanding, but they're human, too.

I work with web users a lot, helping them find the stuff they want from our site, and they appreciate not just receiving responsive help, but having that direct line to the publisher via e-mail: hearing from the horse's mouth about upcoming releases, or finding out exactly what the story is with that book that's been sold out everywhere. It's the ultimate in accurate information yet it's the lowest common denominator of the Internet. In fact, most of what you might call the high-tech stuff on Abbeville.com--the postcards, the newsletters, etc-are simply tools to get people connected (connected to us or connected to friends who would enjoy our site) by that most basic of technologies, e-mail. The Web isn't just about information--it's about communication.

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The newest mini-websites at Abbeville are about the books, Cats of Cairo and Zen Cats, two unique new books on the magic of cats.


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