Read Books, Earn Points: A Publisher Unveils a Rewards Program

The Penguin Group experiments with a new way to generate word of mouth

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For some people—people who work for culture blogs, just to take an example—getting advance copies of books is nothing new. (That’s how reviews are published right when books go on sale.) But for book lovers who usually have to wait for a title to show up in stores, the chance to take an early look at the work of a favorite author is something to salivate over and to talk about.

At least, that’s what the publishing company Penguin Group hopes.

As part of their new (and free) program called First to Read, members will have a chance to download so-called “advance reading copies” of upcoming titles from writers like Elizabeth Gilbert and Richelle Mead, up to three months before they’re available to the public. Any member can enter the pool to win a limited number of digital copies—the first group of titles will be given out June 25—but it’s the other way of getting access, where First to Read gets interesting.

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First to Read isn’t the first program to offer readers sneak peeks. Goodreads has a giveaway program with a similar sweepstakes format, and offers titles from many publishers. (Penguin Group only gives away their own books, if you didn’t guess.) But First to Read also reward members with “points.”

Activity on the First to Read site—from sharing items to winning advance copies of books—will earn points for users, explains Suzie Sisoler, Penguin’s senior director of consumer engagement. Right now nobody has points, but in the future they’ll be redeemable for guaranteed access to galleys. The idea, Sisoler tells TIME, is that those who participate are likely to be big readers who (the company hopes) will talk about books and generate word-of-mouth buzz prior to publication.

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Full disclosure: On first hearing about First to Read, it struck me a being a little bit unseemly. Had things gotten so bad that literature needed to be subjected to “gamification”? Do readers need the reward of social-media-friendly points to pick up a novel? What happened to reading for pleasure? To Penguin Group, however, that’s the wrong way to look at it.

“We’re thinking of the points less as a game than as a loyalty program,” Sisoler says, comparing First to Read to any of the numerous non-publishing programs that give freebies to long-time customers. “It’s really just to say ‘thank you.’”

And so far, the site’s data shows that people are taking the time to check out the books, rather than just entering every single pool—which she says indicates that First to Read users are just the kind of people who are reading for something more than points, the kind of readers who deserve those thanks.

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