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Can S&S, Penguin, and Hachette Recommend the Best Books?

As mentioned before, I’m obsessed interested in the ways in which readers find books—especially in the New Digital Reality of Facebook comments and whatnot. The idea of a “Pandora for Books” (or maybe better, a “Last.fm for Books”) has been batted around for sometime now, and apparently a few of the big corporate publishers are putting some $$$$ into just this idea.

From PW:

the main goal of Bookish is to make recommendations about books that will appeal to a reader’s particular taste. He compared the site to things like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes that mix information about movies with reviews and news. Editorial will include breaking news, author interviews, excerpts, reviews and other marketing materials that publishers feel will help readers pick a book, Lemgruber said. Although backed by Penguin, S&S and Hachette, Lemgruber stressed that Bookish will be editorially independent, covering books from all publishers (excluding vanity presses).

Penguin Group USA CEO David Shanks compared Bookish to Pandora and said unlike other sites that are driven by purchases, Bookish will make recommendations based on the information provided by consumers. “The more information readers provide the more customized the recommendations can be,” Shanks said, noting that Bookish is aimed at helping readers identify books they may like from the tens of thousands published annually. He said the three publishers came together after it became clear that their individual sites would never drive enough traffic to reach a critical mass of book buyers. As print media devotes less space to book coverage, the publishers felt they needed a way to raise the profile of their content, Shanks said.

As with the still not doing shit DiscoverReads, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. And without being able to check out whether it recommends Harry Potter or The Pale King, based on my muted post horn tattoo it’s hard to say whether this algorithm is worth its weight in silicon. So we’ll see.

I’m all about the idea of recommending software/websites/apps/etc, mainly because I feel that the real challenge for book people in our Age of Abundance (everyone’s a writer! everyone’s a publisher! a million books is year is nothing!) is going to be hooking up the right reader with the right book at the right time. Maybe this is a step in the right direction . . .

Also curious to see how book reviewers respond to something like this. In a sense, a site that automates recommendations takes away a bit from their importance. Rather than puzzle out from a 1,000 word review if I should or shouldn’t read a book, I could just ask Bookish how well it “fits my criteria.”

It will also be interesting to find out how dispersed the recommendations are. I know there’s a better, more accurate statistical term for this that I can’t think of, but basically, will this site end up recommending pretty much the same books you see on tables at Barnes & Noble, or will it end up pushing readers down the “long tail” toward niche publications and books that are outside of the mainstream. There’s a fine balance to be struck here, one that Pandora is only so-so at (in my opinion).

All very curious that the tide has shifted in the direction we (people like myself and Richard Nash) have been talking about for some time now . . . Kind of cool to see a prediction start to come true . . .



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