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A C A S E ST U DY
Blogging for Books:
The Ingenious Idea that Grew…and Grew!
Five years ago, one individual from a Christian book imprint in Colorado
Springs, CO, had a great idea but needed some technical assistance.
Fortunately, he found Rocket Jones, and thanks to their expertise and close
partnership, this idea grew into a wildly successful web application. In
fact, the application was so successful that over time it grew and morphed
and eventually was adopted by 17 other publishing imprints!
Here’s how it happened.
IN THE BEGINNING
Penguin Random House is one of the five largest publishing companies
in the world. It has several American divisions, one of which is Crown
Publishing Group. Crown Publishing Group has 17 “imprints”– each
of which publishes and markets different types of books to different
audiences. One of these imprints isWaterbrook Multnomah, publisher of
Christian fiction and nonfiction.
When Chris Sigfrids joinedWaterbrook Multnomah, he was fulfilling his
dream of getting involved in publishing. He always thought he’d end up in
public relations, but his love of web design led him down the road of digital
marketing. As Senior Online Marketing Manager, Chris was responsible
for managing theWaterbrook Multnomah website, social media, email,
newsletters, and digital marketing strategy. In other words, he was in
charge of finding ways to support the imprint, the authors, and their
One day early in hisWaterbrook Multnomah career, Chris discovered that
publicists at Waterbrook Multnomah maintained a distribution list of
bloggers’email addresses in Outlook.Whenever a new book was about to
be released, a publicist would send out requests to the bloggers on the list,
asking if they were interested in reviewing the book. Publicists would keep
track of the email responses from interested bloggers and put their names
and mailing addresses into Excel. From there, mailing labels were created,
and the books were packaged and shipped.Whew! A very labor intensive
Chris thought the process was ripe for automation. His initial concern
was how to relieve publicists of sending individual emails to bloggers,
entering addresses, and packaging and mailing books. His first step toward
addressing this concern was to design a simple web form for bloggers to
fill out online if they were interested in getting free books in exchange for
Data from bloggers who responded would be stored in a database that
could be used to generate mailing labels. This would eliminate the need
for a list of Outlook email addresses and an Excel spreadsheet.When more
than 2,000 bloggers signed up in the first couple of weeks, Chris knew his
idea had merit, but he also realized he should expand his original idea from
a simple web form to a full-fledged website.
Page 2 of 7 Rocket Jones Interactive | www.rocketjones.com
The collaborative project
between The Crown Publish-
ing Group and Rocket Jones
involves many people, but
these are the main cast of
characters mentioned in
• Chris Sigfrids, Senior
Online Marketing Manager,
• Jeff Bristol, CEO,
• Jeff Shoemaker,
Senior Software Architect,
• Logan King, Technical
Developer, Rocket Jones
ABOUT CHRIS SIGFRIDS
Chris wears two hats as:
• Senior Manager,
Community Operations –
Crown Publishing Group
• Senior Online Marketing
To learn more about Chris
or Blogging for Books:
ROCKET JONES TO THE RESCUE!
Chris decided he needed a website where bloggers could sign up to
identify the types of books in which they were interested. They would then
receive appropriate books by mail, review them, and publish their reviews
online for others to read, thus creating a “buzz”about the books. Each
time they published reviews, more books would be sent to them. As Chris
expanded his vision, he realized that such a website could attract more
than just bloggers with lots of followers;it could also attract librarians,
retailers, and media organizations.
Chris had a big vision…but no realistic way to make it a reality. He needed
When Chris shared his vision with another designer, the individual
recommended Rocket Jones.Word-of-mouth recommendations meant a
lot to Chris, and after evaluating several vendors, he chose Rocket Jones to
build his web-based “dream”application from scratch.
THE PROCESS BEGINS
Initially, the Rocket Jones team met with Chris to hear his story and
understand his vision. Chris had spent a lot of time fine-tuning that vision
and even had a 100-page scope document to prove it! The document
defined everything from the description of operation to blogger tasks and
flow of data to howWaterbrook Multnomah staff would use that data.
Not every Rocket Jones customer provides this level of detail in their
project documentation, but Chris’web background and in-depth
specification document helped Rocket Jones hit the ground running.
After talking to Chris, the Rocket Jones team immediately realized they
would be creating a single, web-based product for two very distinct
• Waterbrook Multnomah wanted the front-end website to serve bloggers
and other book reviewers who needed to sign up to receive free books by
interest category and publish their reviews.
• The back-end book management system needed to serveWaterbrook
Multnomah publicists and staff who would enter information about
new books, plan for book launches, and analyze data about readers and
This large-scale project forWaterbrook Multnomah and Rocket Jones
would span five years, involve new ways of looking at things, and require a
high level of collaboration for success!
THE JOURNEY OF COLLABORATION
The Rocket Jones team worked directly with Chris, which made things
run efficiently; there was never a need to wait on a third party for
a decision. “I was the go-to person for everything,”says Chris. “I had
the authority and the autonomy to make decisions – the buck stopped
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Chris had a big
vision but no
realistic way to
make it a reality.
“ It’s all about trust. I can
pick up the phone and
call Rocket Jones about
anything. I know they
won’t overcharge me.
They are very honest and
full of integrity.”
— Chris Sigfrids, Senior Online
“ Rocket Jones is a team of
smart people with a proven
track record of strong
collaboration and building
— Jeff Bristol, CEO, Rocket Jones
As the project took off, a natural process evolved. Chris would explain
his ideas with some rough sketches, and Rocket Jones would offer
suggestions. Based on their conversation and Chris’sketches, the Rocket
Jones team would come back
with wireframes (detailed screen
illustrations) and ask Chris, “Is this
what you imagined?”
The constant interchange of wire-
frames and honest feedback built
trust. Chris felt very comfortable
saying, “That’s not what I first
envisioned”or “I need something
different.”When he did this, the Rocket Jones team would present
alternative ideas, along with all the pros and cons. This was invaluable in
helping Chris make quick decisions to move the project forward.
As they developed the front-end web tools, the Rocket Jones team
also worked on the back-end book management system. This involved
collaborating closely with individuals from the Penguin Random House
IT department in New York City.What a great opportunity for the Rocket
Jones team to demonstrate their ability to “play well with others!”
“ Large companies typically do not like opening up their processes and data
to outsiders,”says Jeff “Shoe”Shoemaker, Senior Software Architect at
Rocket Jones. “However, we established trust early on by working closely
with the Penguin Random House IT team, learning their systems, and
adapting our methods to their existing processes. As a result, their IT
department willingly granted our team access to the necessary servers
and databases while maintaining the security they required.”
Blogging for Books has been an ongoing project for five years. During this
time, Rocket Jones has accumulated the experience, technical know-now,
and familiarity with the project to handle its evolution in any direction.
Here are just a few examples of Rocket Jones’ability to “go with the flow.”
1. When the project first began, the focus was on sending printed
books to bloggers for review. However, when Chris found a third party
provider who could deliver e-books, Rocket Jones quickly evolved the
Blogging for Books web application to accommodate the new media.
“ I trusted Rocket Jones to say when there was a problem or when
something was beyond scope. I trusted them to direct us in the path
of the best solutions based on technology.”
— Chris Sigfrids,Waterbrook Multnomah
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2. As the project grew, so did its levels of complexity. Initially, the project
was aimed at bloggers. However, as the project expanded to librarians,
retailers, and media organizations, Rocket Jones enhanced the software
to implement new “rules”based on reviewers’roles, backgrounds, and
online influence.While “traditional”bloggers are required to post a
review before choosing a new book, “partners”like retailers, librarians,
church leaders, and media organizations can participate without ever
posting a review. In this way, the software acts as a custom book-
request-and-review portal for different types of members.
3. No software application is an island, and Blogging for Books was tightly
integrated with the Penguin Random House internal database and
other third-party tools. The Rocket Team often reached out to vendors,
dug through documentation, and interpreted tons of data to develop
solutions that worked. Even better, “Waterbrook Multnomah trusted us
to integrate our code directly into their production environment,”says
Logan King, Technical Developer at Rocket Jones.
The trusted working relationship between Rocket Jones andWaterbrook
Multnomah, combined with their flexibility and technical expertise, has
allowed Rocket Jones to successfully expand and adapt Blogging for Books
through the years.
LOOK AT THE RESULTS!
“ We now have a program that practically runs itself,”says Chris. “The
system sends and receives transactional emails, simplifying how
thousands of books are ordered and delivered to bloggers.”
At the simplest level, Blogging for Books is an attractive, easy-to-navigate
website that provides free books to reviewers in exchange for honest
reviews. But it’s so much more!
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“ Rocket Jones has a
reputation for building
products that are ‘future-
proof’because they can
grow as a company’s needs
grow.We are comfortable
with complexity. As your
needs change and evolve,
we help you work through
the increased complexity.”
– Jeff “Shoe”Shoemaker,
Senior Software Architect, Rocket
Everything about the bloggers and the
books they review is stored in a database
that Waterbrook Multnomah publicists
access any time. After logging into the
adminstrative section of the website, a
publicist can quickly pull up all available
information about the book, such as
description, author bio, cost, number of
pages, and even a cover illustration. Publicists also decide when to make
advance copies available and how many copies should go to members
with different levels of influence. They can also get reports of sales and
With almost 50,000 book reviews stored in the system over the past
five years, the information available to Chris and his publicists is almost
unlimited. For example, suppose a publicist has a book that needs “a little
push.”Chris talks to the publicist about the target audience for the book
and learns the author will be on a talk show in about a month. Chris then
accesses the database and determines there are 500 bloggers who match
the target audience. He crafts a short message about the upcoming talk
show and the system sends it out to all qualifying bloggers. Voila! Instant
Chris Sigfrids had a vision of what he wanted—a book promotion
program forWaterbrook Multnomah. All he needed was a partner he
could trust whose skills could keep up with his ideas and make his vision a
reality. He got that partner with Rocket Jones.
Because there is no such thing as the perfect solution, Rocket Jones
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“ We work hard to develop
We do this by consistently
delivering a quality product
— on time and on budget.
We ALL benefit when the
project is a success.”
– Jeff Bristol, CEO, Rocket Jones
continues working with Chris andWaterbrook Multnomah to support
their changing needs as the product evolves.
Over the past five years, the number of active members has more than
quadrupled! The database has been scaled considerably to accommodate
this dramatic increase in bloggers, media organizations, librarians,
retailers, publicists, and marketing personnel who use Blogging for Books.
Today, Blogging for Books is so successful that Penguin Random House has
expanded the application beyond theWaterbrook Multnomah imprint to
all seventeen imprints in the Crown Publishing Group.Who knows what
the future holds!
To learn more about Crown Publishing:
Crown Publishing - A Division of Random House, Inc.
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
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ABOUT ROCKET JONES
Founded in 2001 by
Jeff Bristol, Rocket Jones
Interactive specializes in
all things web—from web
sites to custom business
and online applications.
Our team is made up of
dedicated people who
not only deliver technical
prowess and elegant
interfaces, but also strong
turnarounds, and met
deadlines. Rocket Jones is
located in Old Town Fort
Fort Collins, CO 80524