The Future of the Online Bookshelf?

If:Book calls attention to Zoomii, a new “virtual bookstore” with titles arranged on virtual shelves, sort of like a normal bookstore. (Well, a “normal” bookstore that faces out every single title.)

It is sort of cool to look at and play with, and does start to replicate the browsing experience one has in a bricks-and-mortar bookshop. Although all titles are purchased through Amazon, the selection is pretty crap, and, as Sebastian Mary astutely points out, pretty conventional and antithetical to the promise of the internet.

It’s debatable, though, whether this kind of heavily-mediated pseudo-serendipity, while a pleasant change from the messy Amazon experience, isn’t one metaphor too far. After all, how ‘serendipitous’ are the book thumbnails I find on its digitally-rendered ‘shelves’?

What concerns me is that, while this site provides something of the feel of browsing a bookstore, this is not only a superficial impression but reproduces the worst of the industrialized mainstream bookstores. The buying practices necessitated in order to keep a large bookstore financially viable these days have skewed the kinds of books that are deemed saleable profoundly; the redemptive promise of the Web was that the magical long tail might create markets for even those niche publications that have been edged out of mainstream publishing and book sales.

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