Everybody knows that the internet is a powerful tool for marketing and for distributing information. It should be no surprise then, that amazon.com, a bookseller, is top on the list of internet moneymakers. Amazon markets books, which distribute information, so Amazon naturally has some ideal internet content. Still, there isn’t very much difference between a listing on Amazon and a space on a bookstore shelf. There are other ways for online content to supplement the publication of a book, in addition to marketing.

I’ve conducted an informal survey of the “book companion websites” out there. These websites are growing in number, but they’re still comparatively rare. (I think that will change. As more information goes online, there will be more companies to try their hand at branding literature.)

Here’s what I think are the salient features of a worthwhile book companion website: useful information, and simple presentation.

Useful Information

The idea behind a book companion website is that it accompanies the book. A significant portion of the website’s users will have the book itself, in their lap, as they type the web address into their browser. This is particularly true with the websites for technical books or textbooks. These websites must also consider that the audience may not already own the book, so the website should function as effective advertising for the book, without frustrating the other half of the audience. Links to amazon are typically included, because most internet users recognize Amazon, and they trust it. Frequently, another link is provided, to buy the book form the publisher. This is probably a contractual obligation. Any link will do, so long as it is prominent, and it works easily.

I think the critical elements of a good book companion website are as follows:

  • Prominent link(s) to way(s) to purchase the book.
  • An Introduction to the book
  • The table of contents
  • Sample Content(s
  • Press about the book?
  • About the author
  • Is the author touring / speaking / publishing other things?
<li> Companion Materials</li>
  • Multimedia Supplements to the text, with relevant chapter indicated.
  • Educational Resources
  • Links to related information: websites, books, etc.

Simple Presentation

The most effective book companion websites are just that, companions, they don’t overwhelm or distract the user. They do function as effective advertising, and as an informational resource they are direct, and generally allow the book to be the ultimate authority on the subject.

I’ll draw most of my examples from publishers who write books about web design. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that a book about web design would have a well designed website to accompany it? These are excellent examples for websites to accompany any kind of book.

Keep it simple

This is a very simple website, consisting of three pdf files, three web pages, and several links to buy the book. Lets not forget the prominent picture of a well designed bookjacket!

Additional Information

This website also includes a nice biography of the author (included, in this example, on every page) and a links page, where the links are arranged to accompany each chapter of the book.

Educational Resources

Here’s a good example of how technical, or educational books, often include a set of downloadable resources. In this example, the downloads are the examples used in the book, so that the reader can learn to write code. Each chapter heading is a link to an archive that contains all the files for that chapter. Alternately, each resource is available on its own. The only thing really lacking in this example is some sort of contextual description – but perhaps the book does that.

This book’s website also does a good job of presenting an introduction to the book.

Interactive Content

Books cant display images, sound, and video as well as the internet can. Its also difficult to describe an interactive interface in print. For that reason, a link comes in handy, like this one, a link to a fictitious online shop bookstore featured on a book companion website.

Books and Blogs

Some authors use blogging as a testing ground for their books’ content. It can be difficult to tell whether these books are supplementary to their websites, or vice versa. Other book’s websites feature smaller blogs, with less content. These may be about a book tour, or a journal written during the composition of the book.