Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Can Bookish Be a Game Changer?

After many many delays and much speculation, a joint venture called Bookish was launched by Penguin, Hachette and Simon & Schuster.

(Disclosure time: I work at CNET, which is owned by CBS, which is the same parent company of Simon & Schuster. I'm also published by Penguin. All opinions expressed here are my own, and I don't have any insight into Simon & Schuster operations.)

Bookish is a site where you can save books to shelves, rate them, get book recommendations, read some original content, and, very significantly for publishers, buy books directly from the site in various formats. This is a big step for the major publishers into a direct to consumer vertical.

Right now the site feels like it's in beta. There seems to be social sharing built in but I wasn't able to get it to work yet, and even after adding books to my shelves I'm actually still not sure how to get recommendations except by just adding books to a very specific recommendation engine. There's nothing along the lines of Netflix's recommendations based on the things you've rated and told the site you want to read (at least, not that I've been able to find, and I suppose this could be coming).

I've been waiting for this site for quite a while, and had some conversations with people familiar with the direction of the site as it was being developed. Now that I've explored a bit and taken a look, I definitely think Bookish has promise. The design feels polished, the checkout path feels smooth, and I do think there's some value in a good recommendation platform.

But the concerns I had as Bookish was being developed remains. Basically: How often does someone need to visit Bookish?

Aside from the original content, unless you actually need a recommendation for a book or find the book buying process superior there doesn't feel like a specific reason to visit the site. How often do you find yourself needing a recommendation for a book? Maybe a couple times a year? And even if you do want a recommendation, is this where you'll seek it out? And if you want to buy a book, isn't it already easy to buy it through existing channels?

Perhaps more importantly, in the social book recommendation sphere, sites like Goodreads had a major head start and is growing in popularity. And it's done this by being a fun part of the entire reading experience. In addition to saving and rating books, which you can do on Bookish, on Goodreads you can track your progress, organize your books into shelves, and there's a seamless experience for sharing to Facebook.

But the crucial part of Goodreads is that it's social. I can see what my friends are reading and they can see what I'm reading, which is extremely fun. Shelves are conversation starters. It keeps me coming back to the site.

I don't see a similar reason to return to Bookish. As a platform it has promise. But unless they can find a way to become indispensable to readers it's hard to see it as a game changer. I'm not sure what will prompt me to return.

My feeling: Bookish could become the basis for a Hulu for books, a place where readers can gain access to exclusive e-book subscription plans or be a place for exclusive free content. They could really leverage the participation of the publishers. Right now it doesn't feel geared toward that, but the platform is there.

Or perhaps Bookish could finally be the place for something readers have clamored for forever: Bundled print and e-book editions.

Whatever it is, it seems to me that while it's a good first effort, the site needs another killer ingredient.

What do you think? Have you tried out Bookish and what do you think it should be?






30 comments:

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I wandered around the site for a while, got bored and left. You're right, there is a still an ingredient missing.

Mirka Breen said...

Bookish? That's me. The site? Not so much.

Anonymous said...

I think it's wonderful that you posted this because I didn't know about them. But now I will shout as much as I can and try to inform other people.

The reason why I'm saying this is because I am starting to find sites like Goodreads very low end...trashy. And they seem to thrive on viciousness and controversy. And I don't care much for it. I honestly think sites like Goodreads will turn into places for the lower classes to argue and bicker with each other, and sites like Bookish have the potential to become places where a higher end reader goes.

I go to places like this blog because I learn and I'm informed, and there's a quality to it I like. But when I go to Goodreads I often feel as though I'm wading through a discount department store of the worst kind, with people I would never socialize with in real life. So why would I want to socialize with them online?

I think web sites like Bookish are long overdue, for the people like me who don't want to be associated with the low end types at Goodreads. And I'm only being honest. I don't like cheap fast food either.

Nathan Bransford said...

I don't know anon, I think every social network is about who you're following and interacting with. I agree that there's a bit of a lowest-common-denominator that can happen with the aggregated reviews, but to me the appeal of sites like GoodReads and Library Thing is that you can easily see what your friends are reading and saying about books, so you have context.

Perhaps different types of people will flock in different places, in which case Bookish could be that destination. But right there that capability isn't really there in a seamless way like it is at some of the other book social networking sites.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I think the idea would definitely work better with a more social site like GR. If GR had the ability to link people directly to the publishers with a buy button, you'd see a spike in direct sales simply because of impulse buying.

Anonymous said...

I agree in a general sense, and I prefer Library Thing over GR. I just think there's something missing for readers who aren't interested in all the trashy drama at GR. A place where honest people can go and not feel as if they need to shower when they sign out. Bookish may or may not be that place. But sooner or later something will take the place of GR. As more and more mainstream people discover social media the call for more civilized web sites that aren't run like the old wild west are going to be needed. A lot of us are really turned off by places like GR, and at the same time we want nice places to go.

Thanks for posting about Bookish!

LadySaotome said...

The only thing I have heard previously about this site is their sketchy Terms of Use. It made me a bit leery.

Tannia Ortiz-Lopes said...

Hum, I must said, I hang out in GR very often and never have experienced what anonymous expressed here. Maybe, like Nathan said, it is a matter of who you are following and who is following you.

So far my experience has very very positive.

ThorPod said...

Bookish has problems. If I search for my book by title on Bookish, it does not come up. If I search my last name, it does come up, but there's nothing on the page that you can't find anywhere else on the internet. And oddly enough, there is a whole separate part of the Bookish site that cannot be navigated to, where videos are house. My trailer is there (http://bookish.magnify.net/video/The-Turncoat-Donna-Thorland-978;search%3Aturncoat) but even if you somehow find my trailer on "bookish.magnify.net" you can't navigate from there to the book's page...

M said...

This was at Passive Voice recently. A bit of a put-off.
http://www.thepassivevoice.com/02/2013/calling-bookishs-terms-of-service-idiotic-is-a-violation-of-the-terms-of-service/

Jennifer said...

I'm somewhat of a Goodreads addict with no interest in starting over on Bookish.

Ted Cross said...

I don't bother with book recommendations. I get that by exploring books in 'my' genres on Amazon. And if Bookish isn't going to have the books be in the same format as my kindle, without any DRM bother, I'm not interested.

Jenni Wiltz said...

I looked at Bookish a few days ago, and couldn't get away from my first thought: there's nothing new here. I love Hilary Mantel, for example, but I don't need Bookish to tell me she has a new book. I've seen it at my bookstore, my library, on my Kindle, etc. What are they giving me that I haven't already seen eight other places? Why not use the site to offer author exclusives, bios and work from up-and-comers, free chapters from stuff in development, behind the scenes of the publishing industry, etc...?

Taylor Napolsky said...

I remember getting excited about this site—like a year and a half ago.

Anonymous said...

I visited the site, not impress. There really isn't anything for authors. I registered to see if I could add a book that I like and that's not available. You're are correct missing ingredients. It was boring for me.

Karen Burgess said...

Sounds look Goodreads with a "buy" button.

Toby Neal said...

Where are the indies? that's my problem with it, in a nutshell.
Too many good self published books out there to be ignored entirely.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Bookish strikes me as a publisher response to someone telling them they need to have direct contact with their customers... without really thinking through what that means.

And I think it's a truism in the online biz (of all flavors) that being a follower (i.e. second into the marketplace of ideas) doesn't do much. "Me too" doesn't garner interest. "Hey I'm different!" does. As well as a relentless focus on serving the customer.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Nathan: I haven't tried Bookish. But it doesn't sound like a platform that, as a reader, I'd really be interested in.

For two reasons: Goodreads does, as you've noted, have a great start and growing popularity/use and your description of what and by whom Bookish has been set up sounds suspiciously like an attempt to sell books at prices the participating publishers want without having to sell on Amazon at prices below what they want.

In other words, Bookish sounds to me suspiciously like the big traditional publishers' attempt at price fixing ebooks and printed books at the same prices as their "industry model" that they actually tried to force down Amazon's throat--and failed, when Amazon and others accused them of price fixing, and the Justice Department agreed that's what it amounted to (restraint of trade).

That said, however, I could see it--if the publishers were smart enough--as a modern, online version of the sort of "Book of the Month" clubs, which sent recommendations to readers, who were required to order a few books a year. And since the advent of the internet, all the big publishers have had their own websites, from which in fact you could purchase their books and learn about their authors.

You likely know, though I'm not sure how many of your readers do, that most of the major publishers, in fact, even had their own weekly (Scribners) or monthly magazines that showcased stories by their authors, and were intended to attract readers to them...

If that's what they used it for, I might actually be interested in it.

Otherwise, as a self-published "indie" author, and also as a reader and friend of readers and writers, Goodreads seems to be ideal, because not only can you contact your friends who are other readers, but you can be in contact with authors...a key ingredient in the reader/author relationship.

It's as if the big traditional publishers--who are all consolidating, because they never realized what Amazon was doing with Kindle--don't get that being "BIG" is not necessarily the same as "POPULAR," or that readers can see them actually promoting great writing or reading over profits that continue to dwindle because readers (and writers) have caught on that you can read great books, recommended books, and some really bad books, less expensively than what the traditional publishers claim it costs them. Because we now know it may cost them a lot--but it's not going to the writers as much as a major, consolidated, international corporation.

You noted CBS, and Simon and Schuster. Charles Scribner's imprint remains under Simon and Schuster's, as Charles Scribner's Sons' "Scribners". But I don't think a Scribner is in charge of it anymore. And I recently stopped by the building, for fun, thinking maybe they'd preserved Max Perkins' office as a sort of museum. But no. There's not even, really, a bookstore in the building. There is, however, conveniently, a bank...

:)

Allbest,
T

Megan said...

I checked out the site, and I felt like it was very commercial. They don't really show you exactly what you are supposed to do on the site to make your stay worthwhile. The social aspect of the site makes it second to Goodreads, but, for me, knowing that the site is made furnished by big publishers makes me feel like I'm not going to get a one-sided view of books. By this, I mean that the books they list will be from their publishing company and they won't want a lot of bad press on a website they fund. Maybe that's conspiracy theory, but I think that would keep me away from the site.

NickerNotes said...

What ppl have been clamoring for bundled e-books and print? If you buy the paper book because you don't have an e-reader, why would you want the electronic version? If you buy the ebooks because you don't want to end up on an episode of "Hoarders," why would you want the print book?

Mira said...

Well, I can't blame them for trying, but I don't see this taking off. I could be wrong, of course. But they are making so many mistakes.

First, it was a mistake to put this out in beta. Once a customer comes and finds it too clunky to use, they probably won't return.

But I think the real issue they will have is with consumer trust. Why would a reader go to a book recommendation site that only features the publisher's books? The site seems to leave out other publishers. I typed some Macmillian books into the search, and it came up empty.

They could deal with this by being transparent and charming and trying to build brand loyalty, but they don't talk about the fact that the site is run by publishers anywhere that I could find. This is a huge mistake. Customers are saavy and, accurate or not, this looks like they are trying to hide and/or fool people.

The site design has too many ads on it, it looks predatory. There is little that is really welcoming or oriented toward the visitor. I had to search to figure out how to use it. I should not have to do that. It should be easy and extremely customer friendly.


Also, the fact that you cannot buy a book for Kindle is a huge downside. They just lost an enormous customer base right there. I wish Publishers would stop trying to directly compete with Amazon, that's impossible. They would do better to utilize Amazon to help them sell books.

And, there's the terrible terms of service. Mistake.

The final mistake is not including indies. Why?? Ignoring indies, when they are probably the strongest voice right now in the blogosphere, is a mistake. Indies will be highly critical of this site, and they talk ALOT.

So, I don't see this ever being really big, but it could garner some decent business if they fixed some things. That's my humble opinion, anyway.

Roselynn Roberts said...

Thanks for sending information about Bookish. I enjoy investigating new sites. It feels like the primary focus of the site is a sales tool. Nothing wrong with that, but if I'm just focused on buying, I'll just go to Amazon.

I am a fan of Goodreads, which provides more of a social forum, an interactive tool to find more books that I would enjoy, and as a side benefit the ability to purchase.

Seeley James said...

Bookish is a desperate attempt by USA Today to grab advertising dollars in a cynical attempt to make it appear like a social media cornerstone. (Hey, MTV did it 30 years ago and got away with it.)

Readers are not that dumb.

Peace, Seeley

Anonymous said...

Nathan,
4-5 minutes to load since you posted the "Publishing in GIFF" post (which is still up on the side bar under popular posts).

Help me -if possible- so I can load your blog easier please.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't use it as it cuts out independent booksellers. Unless you're James Patterson or like to read James Patterson readers (and writers) are cutting their own throats by just using a big publisher based site -- unless they let you buy the book through an independent bookselller (but what would be the point of the site then?)

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Gavin said...

I want book recomendations by the people I follow on social media and books from all publishers, until sites like this are fully integrated with a full offering like amazon they become silos or data islands out on their own. I can't see any reason why I would return to the site over and over again.

Magdalena Munro said...

I don't see any value for myself personally in this site but when showing it to my husband he demonstrated strong interest. He's a book club facilitator and lit teacher and sees a lot of promise.

Joe Moody said...

My gut reaction was that the site was one gigantic advertisement.

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