Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Around the Word: Book Discovery

Book Discovery. How do readers decide what book to read next? This process, known as "book discovery," is the latest buzz phrase in the online book marketing world. Every day there seems to be a new article or blog post debating the merits of various websites hoping to woo visitors with their book recommendations or browsing tools. This trend is growing so quickly that Publishing Perspectives is already asking if the book discoverability bubble is ready to pop. Trying to make sense of it all? A recent article on Forbes clearly lays out the online book market, customer habits, and book discovery options.

Decisions, Decisions. With so many websites trying to find the sweet spot of book discovery, there are lots of options to explore. Most people are familiar with Amazon's recommendations. But if you're looking for a more tailored experience, many book discovery websites are trying to more carefully cater to customer preferences. Bookish, launched earlier this year, is "an exercise in big data" as CEO Ardy Khazaei explains. The site will use everything from genres and authors to editorial themes and reviews to make its recommendations. Then there's Goodreads, probably the most well known and established book discovery tool, which crowdsources peer recommendations and reviews to make its selections.  Looking for something a little more exclusive? Riffle is a new invite-only book discovery site that's been compared to Pinterest. It's powered through a Facebook app that allows users to share books with friends, create lists, and see industry experts' curated pages. Still hungry for more book discovery options? Check out The Nudge List, Amazon's Shelfari, or Rabble, a Rotten Tomatoes–like website with expert reviews that is set to launch in April.

Word of Mouth. Even with all these options, the real-world experience of getting book recommendations from friends still reigns supreme. A recent Goodreads survey found that "trusted friend" remains the top reason respondents decided to read a book, followed by "everyone talking about it" and "book club." Another study, conducted by Codex Group, underscores just how far online book discovery has to go: only 7 percent of frequent online book buyers said they actually "discovered" the last book they purchased on the internet. Why can't book discovery websites seem to break through? The New Republic's Hillary Kelly has a thoughtful take: "Data has no imagination. When it comes to book recommendations, attempts to sort or streamline or mathematize them necessarily dehumanizes the process. The very nature of the endeavor, much like digesting Ulysses, requires an infinitely more complex machine: the human brain."

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