Playwrights Canada Press website takes centre stage

You’d never know it from the accolades Playwrights Canada Press receives for the books it publishes, or from the talented artists and writers who choose to work with the press, but Playwrights is helmed by only three people. As is the case for so many small presses, everyone has to wear several hats, not the least Blake Sproule, who serves as Playwrights’ managing editor as well as digital director.Playwrights needed a website that could bring efficiency to daily operations and end the tedious task of repeating ONIX processes for different platforms, a duplication of work that can eat up priceless staff hours.But that wasn’t all they were looking for. We sat down with the Playwrights Canada team to talk about what they were looking for in a website and how ReaderBound is helping them to achieve their business goals.

Data should work for publishers, not the other way around

“I was so sick of duplicating work for the website,” said Blake. What he’s referring to, as many a publisher can sympathize with, is what he had to do when working with their previous site: enter title information first in the metadata system and then again in the website’s content system.ReaderBound solves this problem with a sophisticated import process that pulls title information directly from an ONIX database, and syncs site content to the database (without any additional data entry or intervention required). Clients can load their entire catalogues into the system in a matter of minutes. And those title listings are then updated on an ongoing basis. In fact, ReaderBound cycles new or updated title information into the website every twelve hours, day in and day out.

No more security worries

But ONIX troubleshooting was just the tip of the iceberg because Playwrights had faced a frightening situation in December 2017, right in the middle of the busy Christmas season. Blake explains:“We got hacked, not once but a couple of times. And the developer disappeared. Not only was the broken website which cost us sales – the cart broke down and we could find no way of fixing it – but we were living in constant fear of getting hacked again.”Editor’s note: We hasten to add that while the site was down as a result of these hacks, no customer information was compromised during these outages.Especially with that recent experience in mind, we were pleased to be able to provide assurances to Playwrights that ReaderBound security and hosting protocols and support team keep our clients’ sites running night and day. We literally have one team member working through the night because that someone is in Australia (hi Ben!).Every site is deployed on a managed server with a high-quality commercial host. A rolling backup service maintains a full backup of the live site. There is a separate staging server for quality assurance and testing, and all server systems and security are actively maintained by the support team.“You never know how important security is until you have a breach,” said Blake. “There’s peace of mind knowing that the ReaderBound system is really strong in this area.”

Better customer experiences

“We have a few different audiences,” notes Jessica Lewis, Playwrights' sales and marketing manager. Two of the most important are (1) theatre programs in schools and universities and (2) directors and theatre companies looking for plays that suit their casting needs. “That’s why we were really intent on having a user-friendly way for these groups to find exactly what they need.”As a result, we built the Playwrights Canada site with browsing features geared to different use cases. There are bundles for universities, for example. These bundles are set up in two different ways: some are ordered for direct shipment to the customer while others, by agreement with the university or college in question, are bulk-shipped to the academic department at the institution, to be picked up there by each student. The motivation here is to boost convenience and reduce cost the student.The new site also allows users to search for specific casting needs. We worked with Playwrights to get additional detail about cast structure into the ONIX record for each book, and this is now part of the ongoing data import for the site. Site visitors can now easily isolate all books that correspond to a particular cast structure (e.g., two male and three female roles). It’s a great new way to search or browse within the Playwrights catalogue.Thanks to a newly refreshed custom subject scheme, it’s also very easy for visitors to search according to a certain subject, for example “Middle Eastern Canadian Playwrights, or “Comedy.”“We’re thrilled by the customization that Readerbound brought to our site, in particular the addition of the “Browse by Subject” and “Browse by Cast” features,” says Publisher Annie Gibson. “We were able to add our own subjects to each book in ONIX so directors looking for a romance, a super short play, or theatre for young audiences are able to see the list of everything we’ve got in these categories. The casting information is very specific to plays and incredibly useful for school or groups with defined sets of actors to find plays that meet their needs. That information is held in ONIX and fed directly to the site so again we’re able to maintain a single database with all this information.”Other ways visitors to the site can search include “Award winners,” “On stage now,” “Coming soon,” and “New releases.”

A surprise benefit

On the old Playwrights Canada site, different editions of a book were represented on multiple pages, with the connections between them were not always visible. Customers looking at a paperback edition of a given book could be totally unaware that it was also available as an e-book.On the new ReaderBound site, all editions are clearly shown on one title page.“We’ve seen a definite boost in e-book sales,” said Blake. “It’s a great thing to have the different formats of books all listed on the same book title page, to capture any and all kinds of sale from customers with different needs.” He continued, “And we’re seeing better sales performance in general, year-over-year.”