Penguin Goes to Second Life

Posted on October 25, 2006

Penguin has gone virtual for the launch of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Penguin is doing a launch in Second Life, the online virtual world created by Linden Labs that currently has over one million users worldwide.

Penguin, however, is the first major publisher to dip its toe into the virtual world and, appropriately, it has chosen Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash as the book with which to test the waters. With its invention of the notion of a "metaverse" (a contraction of "metaphysical universe") it is acknowledged as the inspiration behind Second Life and other virtual worlds. "It was the obvious entry point," says Penguin's Ettinghausen (avatar name Jeremy Neumann) as he shows me around the virtual sampler of Snow Crash. "We are always looking for new ways to connect with online communities and Second Life is undergoing a huge amount of growth. However, it is still a small community when compared with MySpace or iTunes and we wouldn't want to bring authors in who didn't have a connection with that world yet."

Penguin worked with the London-based virtual world design agency Rivers Run Red to create an in-world version of the book - this offers readers excerpts of the text, an audio clip and a link which clicks through to a dedicated Second Life page on the Penguin website, complete with the opportunity to buy the book at a discount. They are now developing a virtual bookshelf of other Penguin titles for the Second Life resident.

Although slow to load (and many of the objects in Second Life suffer from a frustrating delay known as "lag"), the Snow Crash sampler is a neat offering from a company which appears, wisely, to have taken a softly-softly approach to engaging with the online community. The crucial factor, perhaps, is that Ettinghausen, who devised the initiative, had already been a resident of Second Life for six months, and came to the project with an insider's understanding of this sometimes mind-boggling new environment.

He is also aware that there is some disquiet among longer-term Second Life residents about perceived bandwagoning by large corporations and the increasing amount of big brand advertising in their world.

We find Second Life to be too slow and unwieldy at present. The interface is clunky. But as the technology improves, it will become more interesting. But for now, if you're an impatient type who likes instant gratification (not that that describes us in any way), Second Life will drive you nuts.

Eventually virtual worlds like Second Life could provide a new avenue for marketing books such as author interviews set inside Second Life.

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