Random House is the world’s largest book publisher, with a history that is as rich as their library of authors. For the last century, Random House has been central to the distribution of amazing stories, thoughts and ideas. Today in the 21st century, Random House is just as relevant as a curator as it is a publisher. Having the strongest roster in the world of authors, editors and curators, Random House is a uniquely positioned company in the digital age.

Great content is agnostic to media type. With the emergence of new publishing and distribution tools Random House faced new and interesting challenges as a publisher. In order to stay relevant, Random House remained true to its core values, being a purveyor of ideas and using the web as a new publishing platform to keep its authors’ ideas as important today as they were last century.

Project Goals

  • A print quality online publication

    The stock and trade of media online is shareability. Random House wanted to feature its amazing network of authors and writers in a publication that reflected the quality of its heritage. Hazlitt Magazine was born: a magazine that featured long form editorial content by the world’s best writers with a presentation that preserved the values of a century’s experience in print publishing.

  • A curated book browsing experience

    Online book browsing has become dominated by companies like Amazon and Google, a data-driven, conversion-heavy approach. This impersonal experience is the antithesis of the bookstore. Bookstore owners always created experiences that grouped books by interest, style or sometimes just taste. The Random House online catalog needed to feel timeless and hand-curated.

  • Increase discovery

    The print world has always understood the importance of the reference. The reference, often sitting in footnotes of an insightful passage would allow the author to provide evidence of a statement. Online reference are much more alive, for a book publisher developing online content by authors, we wanted articles to include inline side notes that referenced works by it’s authors.

  • Engage retail partners

    With a completely refreshed discovery process, the conversion process was important to tackle. With a strong focus on discovery, book pages themselves needed to be refreshed. In order to deliver an authentically online experience, Random House would have to be tied tightly to online retail partners. Using APIs, book pages linked directly to partners for the sale of physical and electronic books.

The Team

Dave

Software Developer

Bogdan

Interface Developer

Ryan

UX/Product Lead

Strategy & UX

Random House of Canada wanted to update its web presence to be aligned with current online media discovery and consumption. Hazlitt Magazine was conceived to be the face of editorial content for the brand. However, unlike most online publications, Hazlitt would have the resources of a cadre of authors, editors and curators and thousands of books to reference. In order to drive awareness and sales of Random House authors, long-form editorial would be supported with references to printed material published by Random House. Hazlitt also provided a valuable platform for Random House and its authors by becoming an easily shareable content source for social networks. In addition, a refresh of the book discovery experience by rethinking the catalog allowed Random House do what it does best, which is curate and spread amazing ideas.

The Great Critic

William Hazlitt is placed amongst Samuel Johnson and George Orwell as one of the great critics and essayists of the English language. When naming and designing Hazlitt, the history of literary critique was a guiding spirit. The presentation of the magazine had to feature classic typography and layouts, strong imagery, and of course, great content. The homepage of Hazlitt magazine features a dynamic layout with tools that empower the editorial team to generate print-worthy layouts effortlessly allowing great writers to focus on great writing.

Integrating product with content

Reference Away

One of the core goals was to increase discovery. In order to make the Hazlitt Magazine platform relevant to core business functions, the articles themselves were reference-rich. Contextual side notes highlighted books as they were referenced by the article, turning the traditional side note into a powerful referral tool.

Judge a book by its cover

With the largest catalog of printed books among publishers, the challenges of creating a book browsing experience that felt instantly familiar were daunting. The solution was to create a design system that could help the Random House team group books the way a store owner might. Pages would feature hand-selected books organized by groupings and genres in a way that highlighted large format book cover art.

Technology

Drupal Content Management System

Given the layout customization needs and large number of content types, Drupal quickly became the CMS of choice. Its extensive library of visual curation tools allowed the Playground team to create easy-to-use tools that got out of the way of the editorial teams.

3rd Party APIs

In order to create automatic inline references, retail-partner links and a searchable catalog, a vast number of Random House APIs were integrated into the platform to make this ambitious experience possible.

Conclusion

Online layouts have come a long way. It is safe to follow web conventions when making an online magazine, however when working with a company with such a strong print history it was import to bend to the long standing rules of print. Making a print publisher relevant in the age of the Facebook Like and the Retweet is a challenge. Random House was uniquely equipped to handle these challenges. Our job was to build intuitive tools that powered a design that is as close to print as anything on the web. The building of the Hazlitt brand was an amazing process. Every day we see more and more people are interacting with Random House brand in a way that wasn't imaginable only a decade ago.