Monday, May 9, 2011

Feeling Bookish?

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne









News that three major publishing houses, Simon & Schuster, Penguin group and Hachette) have combined forces to create a new online retail and 'social' website, Bookish.com, comes at an interesting time for the industry. Clearly publishers, worried about being marginalized in the ebook revolution are trying to gain some ground - but is a website like this really the answer?

Bookish is not up and running as yet but it is being touted as a place where readers can buy books and recommend them to others. Hmmm...so what's new about that? There are already a myriad on online sources for purchasing physical books and ebooks as well as social networking and book related sites that enable people to make recommendations and connect with like minded readers...so what will make Bookish any different? Is a website like this really the answer to publishers' woes? Until the website is up it is difficult to know how it will be different to what is currently available, or whether it will be able to draw in the audience the publishers are obviously eager to embrace.

In the publicity materials for the upcoming site a lot is being promised including 'real time conversations around content', but will these promises be enough? If there is a strong emphasis on recommendations (which is what the press release suggested) how will the site differ from something like
Goodreads.com? How will the publishers ensure editorial independence in the face of potentially negative reviews for their authors? (and there have been enough flame wars to know that there are sensitivities on all sides when it comes to online reviews and their authenticity/validity.) Bookish also hopes to become the destination for purchasing physical and digital books...but why will people go there rather than Amazon? Will the publishers try to undercut Amazon's prices? How else will they convince people to buy from Bookish rather than other sites?

So what do you think? Will a website like Bookish really have any impact? More importantly, is it the kind of website publishers should be investing in?

Me, I suspect that publishers need to regain an upper hand here in terms of content and access. As a reader I am unlikely to bother going to Bookish unless there is a really compelling reason. For me that reason would be exclusive content I can't get anywhere else (this could include author interviews, essays, short stories etc.) or that connects me with readers in a way other social networking sites cannot (if I could participate in a really cool book group session that combines video links with authors maybe). Until the website is launched it's hard to know if all the hype surrounding it will live up to expectations, Unfortunately, I suspect Bookish won't contain anything very novel or exciting and I doubt the Internet is hungry for yet another online bookseller.

What do you think?


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

8 comments:

  1. Interesting...and perplexing. Perplexing in that all these different review sites and other sites just aren't interesting to me as a reader, but I suspect that is because I am very specific in what I want to read. I think perhaps for people who read a wider variety of genres, these sites may be more useful.

    I would need a super-duper compelling reason to quit using Amazon as my main source of searching for books. And off the top of my head, I can think of nothing that would lure me away.

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  2. Generally speaking, unless you do something "first" or "better" than what's been done before, you will not unseat whoever else has done it.

    Examples: Google with searching, Amazon with online books, Apple with digital music, and the list goes on...

    Also worth a thought is who these guys replaced. Google replaced Yahoo, Altavista, Excite, etc. Apple replaced Sony as king of the walkmen. Amazon mostly created it's own market space.

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  3. BK - I agree I am unlikely to go...I don't really use review sites now! Daniel, I think it is way too late for publishers to be doing this sort of thing. It doesn't sound innovative enough to replace what already exists and they are by no means first!

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  4. I think it's a good move for them. The bigs had to do something and think outside the box. This is it. They'll be in association with AOL/ HuffPo and will garner what they desperately need, traffic.

    This, in turn, will give them "space" online to push certain of their authors and books. This is what they need to offer authors, who are thinking of jumping ship, either to another publisher or to self-publishing. It's a form of marketing. (The founders say Bookish will be "editorially independent" but that is a fuzzy term that leaves plenty of wiggle room to push authors they deem pushable)

    Will it be enough? I can't see it as a game changer all by itself, for reasons already stated in the comments. But it IS something. If I'd been an exec in a conference room in a Manhattan office, putting ideas on a whiteboard, this would have been near the top (alongside, "Lose the office space in Manhattan. Send Bob to scout out New Jersey.")

    It's also going to be in competition with Amazon by selling books directly, both print and E. That's going to be interesting. They will have to equal or undercut Amazon prices. Maybe they'll withhold from Amazon for exclusive launches...then what will Amazon do in return/retaliation? It could turn into Godzilla v. Mothra.

    Whatever it turns out to be, it's more bad news for indie bookstores. Now the big publishers THEMSELVES are competing with them.

    In times of massive change like this, there are going to be corpses. Buggy whip manufacturers are going to dry up. People loved buggy whip stores. The smell of the leather, of holding a whip in their hands, of using them skillfully to drive horses. But that wasn't enough to preserve them.

    The publishing bigs are in survival mode now. From that perspective, to me at least, this seems like a well thought out plan. Now we'll see if the plan works.

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  5. Good points Jim, and I agree at least it's something. Will be interesting to see how it goes...and who is left standing at the end of the day. Here in Australia two chain bookstores have gone under in a matter of months so I think the death knell is sadly sounding for many bricks & mortar places. As you say now the publishers are in the game too...but time will tell what impact it really has.

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  6. Certainly there will be an audience who subscribe to the site, but hard to tell if the number will be sufficient to get the desired traffic. Considering the well established sites like Goodreads and Amazon, it will be hard. I'm starting to use these more and more, and I find them enough. Why subscribe to just another site? I can't imagine that it will be so much better to abandon GR and AM.

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  7. It seems to me that the main problem with "the bigs'" approach to e books is pricing - traditional publishers are killing authors'profits by overpricing e books.

    Having a nifty but as everyone has said, probably too late site is not addressing that key issue.

    Not that I know anything!

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  8. I'm looking forward to seeing how this will all materialize. I'll be on amazon, goodreads, shelfari, and library thing as well as twitter and facebook while they get ready to launch. You know, with the rest of the readers and authors online.

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