Monday, March 5, 2012

“About Us” Evaluation: Random House Gets a D minus

Random House, headquartered in Manhattan, is one of the “Big Six” trade publishers. In 1925, Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer purchased the Modern Library; a few years later they published a few other books “at random,” and Random House was born. Its authors range from James Joyce to Roald Dahl, John Updike to Anne Rice, Julia Child to Dr. Seuss. The main About Us page is here.


Personality: D

Random House is a publisher and an international corporation: unfortunately, it’s the conglomerate aspect that dominates their website. The dense History page (tiny text, no subheads, no illustrations) is a list of publishers acquired by Random House, which has in turn been acquired by Bertelsmann. Yes, acquisitions are part of the company’s history, but merely listing them gives a casual visitor no sense of the quality or quantity of Random House’s publications.

Presumably for the same reasons that lead Random House to discourage visitors from attempting to make contact (see Accessibility, below), the site offers little information on who runs Random House or any of its divisions (see Publishers). There is no personality here.

Products/Services: D

The History page mentions that Random House’s authors “have won an unrivalled number of Nobel and Pulitzer prizes.” The company has published hundreds of New York Times bestsellers and dozens of winners of Booker prizes, Newbery medals, and other prestigious awards. And yet, the only author mentioned on the History page is James Joyce, whose Ulysses Random House defended against obscenity charges in 1933.

Of course, the Random House site allows visitors to search by author and to find current Random House bestsellers. But there’s no overview of the company’s most notable authors over the past 80-odd years: an inexcusable lacuna.

The History page has no link to the Awards page, which is only accessible from a link at the bottom of the home page (under Shopping!). The Awards page lists only the most recent awards – not the most impressive. Again, an overview is urgently needed.

Accessibility: E

We have seldom seen a website that so strongly discourages visitors from making contact. The Contact Us link is only available in the links buried at the foot of the page. The Contact Us page begins with a suggestion that we go to the FAQ page (always a good idea), and then whines, “We receive hundreds of e-mails a day … Keep in mind that each contact is a single person with a particular area of expertise and a lot of mail to answer … Due to the volume of mail that we receive, we are unable to answer the following types of inquiries ….”

We understand the reasons behind this repressive attitude. The Matterhorn-sized piles of unsolicited manuscripts at major publishers are legendary, and doubtless there are legions of readers who feel compelled to explain why Julia Child should have substituted canola oil for butter. However, combined with the impersonal tone of the rest of the site, the Contact Us page puts the final touch on the image of Random House as an impersonal corporate behemoth.


No matter how famous your company is, your About Us page should not merely provide a history of corporate mergers and acquisitions. It should showcase who you are and what you do superlatively well.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation.

Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.