Read any good books lately? For the entire month of February, riders of New York City Transit can make the most of their wait times by casting a digital vote for their favorite book amongst five titles, and the five award-winning finalists will then be made available at libraries and bookstores throughout the city for new audiences to absorb. The winning title will be announced in March, and thematic events will take place throughout the Big Apple from there. It’s all part of a new online campaign that has also been made available for the MTA On the Go kiosks operated by Intersection, and it’s entitled One Book, One New York.
The city project, launched in partnership with BuzzFeed, also features five celebrity supporters who are each doing their part by backing one of the titles via promotional videos. They are Larry Wilmore for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Bebe Neuwirth for Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi, William H. Macy for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Danielle Brooks for Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Giancarlo Esposito for The Sellout by Paul Beatty.
Granted, the campaign visuals may not blow you away, but this isn’t just about catching the eye and decreasing perceived wait time with a simple distraction that ends as soon as the train arrives. It’s not just stimuli for the sake of busying the mind, but rather a substantive investment in how New Yorkers will spend their subsequent commuting and recreational time.
One Book, One New York allows the city’s commuters to choose how their hometown will be captivated and how mental attention will be directed, not to mention the added value of involving the “community.” After all, it was the collective experience that made early radio and television broadcasts such revelations. Before there were a gazillion channels of specific and hyper-customized material to aimlessly surf through, the masses could feel like they were experiencing “stories” together and simultaneously. Ever watch a great film in the dark of a packed theater as opposed to an empty matinee? It makes a difference.
In many ways, this is where your average, run-of-the-mill digital signage deployment falls flat. The interactivity or personalization that may be present ends up being undermined by the nagging feeling that the signage is more of a triggered loop than an event. And the “content” is invariably more concept than actual content.
As One Book, One New York wraps up its first week of voting, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment as well as the National Book Foundation are obviously hopeful that the campaign sparks some renewed interest in the publishing world and for independent bookstores. In addition, the publishers whose books are on the ballot will donate 4,000 copies of the finalists to more than 200 library branches. That said, the roll-out is undeniably buoyed and made far more unique by the digital signage component, and I find it interesting that it took DS to get the trailblazing city of New York (arguably the center of the known universe) back to reading books—the true cornerstone of traditional print media, culture and content.