What Is a Zola?
I’m not entirely sure what a Zola is—an ebook only store! a social network for readers! a discovery engine! something made in Manhattan!—but apparently it’s important enough to acquire (and thankfully dismantle) Bookish.
From Publishers Weekly:
Bookish, the struggling social network funded by three of the big five publishers, has been acquired by start-up online retailer, Zola Books. The news comes after lingering questions about the fate of Bookish, a venture which was announced in May 2011, did not go live until early 2013, and went through a string of CEOs as it struggled to gain traction.
That may be the harshest, diplomatic statement I’ve ever read in PW. Basically, Bookish took a million years too long to launch, and when it finally did, it’s product was pretty shitty. And although I’m sure the families of Bookish employees actually buy books through the site, no one else does.
Joe Regal, founder and CEO of Zola, told PW that both the Bookish name, and the URL, will stay intact in the coming months, and that he hopes to “keep the best parts of Bookish alive in one form or another long after that.” In terms of Bookish’s staff, Regal said he expects to keep “about half” of the company’s existing employees [. . .]
Which basically means that the Bookish era is over, except for the recommendation algorithm (which is supposedly good? a statement that I can’t possibly believe) will be incorporated into Zola’s site. And something about social networking.
I’m not sure I’d ever use Zola, but at least they allow users the option of giving the Indie Bookstore of your choice a portion of all your purchases. Bookish never did that.
OK, enough with this. But you should check out this post about Bookish’s launch. It’s pretty funny. And ranty. Here’s a snippet:
When I first heard about Bookish, the word on the street was that it would be a “Pitchfork for Books.” (See this post on Melville House that echos this belief.) I believed/hoped that this would be a site in which 3-5 books from a dozen different categories (fiction, business books, sci-fi, health, etc.) would be reviewed on a daily basis. That it would serve that critical “discovery” function in which readers (especially those not reading best-sellers) could find out what’s coming out and if they should seek it out.
THAT would be extremely valuable to readers, and would have the potential to become a “taste-making” book site that is respected by a wide range of readers. A site that could take over for the loss of newspaper reviews and position itself as more reputable than most blogs. Also, by actually focusing on books instead of publishing news or gossip, it would be pretty damn unique. Something for readers, not just insiders.
But that sort of book discovery isn’t sexy anymore. The Age of Screens is also the Age of Big Data. An editorial vision has been replaced by an algorithm. Why hire 20 editors to curate reviews and cultivate a reading community when you can get readers to
piss awayspend their time entering in gobs of information about which books they’ve read, bought, and liked, and then crunch that data and recommend that the next book they read is Hunger Games?
(My luddite tendencies are at full-force today.)
Looking at Bookish, it’s clear that it’s definitely NOT the Pitchfork for books. Before getting into what it is, I need to explain a bit more about why it WOULD NEVER be the Pitchfork for books. And why it’s kind of evil.
First off, this site (and it’s rather corporate, lame name) is funded by Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Hachette—three of the largest publishers in the country. (Especially if you consider Penguin being Penguin + Random House.) Can corporate publishers really ever be the “taste-makers” in the sense that Pitchfork is? Absolutely not. In fact, no publisher can/should. An independent group of smart readers evaluating all the books coming out and highlighting ones from commercial, indie, and university presses can have an editorial vision that gets passed along to readers. And even if Bookish has a separate staff, its editorial objectivity has already been compromised.