Discoverability problem: the Bookish case

To answer the question regarding what data I would want to collect about readers’ impressions of the books I publish in future, I would say that it would have to deal with how they discover and buy their books. I think book discoverability is still a huge problem and I would want to know from where the majority of my readers purchase their books so that I can better my marketing efforts on the other avenues, while still prioritizing sales via the main point of purchase. The failure – or rather the ineffectiveness – of a site like Bookish demonstrates that discoverability is still a blind spot with publishers. Bookish was launched in 2013 by Penguin (before it merged with Random House), Simon & Schuster and Hachette as a site that can expand discoverability, connect with readers and generate prepublication buzz for books. The site’s mission – as stated on its ‘About’ page – is to ‘Help readers discover their next favorite book’. It was meant to foster a “direct digital customer relationship” and connect readers with books and authors with proprietary content and exclusive deals. Had Bookish served its purpose, we would, probably, be bemoaning the decline of the sales of books a little less and not mulling over why discoverability is still a thorn in the publisher’s side. Instead of building a community of book readers, Bookish is a marketing tool for publishers. The list of publishers participating in Bookish might have increased, but it’s still a one-way street, with content and information mainly coming from the operators of the site and not from the people using it. Book recommendation, currently, seems to be its main raison d’être with listicles upon listicles curated by Bookish for their readers. There is no option for a reader to recommend books or make their own listicle. What’s worse, there is a no “social” aspect to the site at all. Nowhere where the reader can make their account and build a virtual shelf à la Goodreads. If a reader wants to avail of any social features, they need to visit Bookish’s sister-site Bookish First. The conceit of Bookish First is that readers get to read a book before it is published. For this, they need to sign up, participate in contests and stand a chance to win a book. But to stand a better chance to win, the reader has to promote the offered book on their social media. I’m not sure whether the chance of getting to read a book before it’s pub date is incentive enough for a reader to basically do marketing for Bookish and its publishers. Not all books are met with the same fan anticipation that we witnessed before the launch of every Harry Potter. Getting the next Harry Potter in hand before its launch could have given you legit bragging rights. But, before the launch of the next book by Kelly Loy Gilbert or K J. Howe? Um, not so much. We might perhaps witness it again just before the launch of George R. R. Martin’s highly anticipated The Winds of Winter but publishing phenomena like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones are the exception and not the rule. For Bookish to dedicate an entire site just for contests by dangling the carrot of free pre-pub-date books, while making the readers do some legwork (figuratively speaking) for it, seems like a rather ill-conceived idea. They do not have a large user base: only 45K Facebook users, for instance, as opposed to Goodreads’s 1.25 million.

Going into the industry, it is worrisome to me if a project launched by 3 of the Big 5 as its discoverability platform is not living up to its potential. It perpetuates the idea that publishers live in a closed ecosystem, where communication is one way, where they think they know what the readers want without actually listening to them. Publishers seem to be disjointed from what’s happening today, where everyone is mining user data to create and curate the exact products and content people want. With a platform like Bookish, publishers had the opportunity for a direct, two-way communication platform to establish connection with the reader. Which is why, when five years since its launch that is not the case, I am really surprised, especially since the publishers participating in Bookish ostensibly set out to establish a “direct digital customer relationship”  with the reader. As an aspiring publisher I hope I can make a dent in the problems concerning discoverability. I’d hope that my impression of what the reader wanted mirrored the readers impressions and expectations.

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