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Is the Book Discoverability Bubble Ready to Pop?

By Edward Nawotka and Mark Piesing

Today’s feature story, “Nudging UK Book Discovery Toward the Mainstream” focuses on one of the latest new entrants into the battle for book discovery, that somewhat vapid term which encompasses all manner of websites, apps and platforms that promise to help you find the next book you want to read.

You would think that we don’t all already have more books than we could ever conceivably read stacked up on the proverbial bedside table or loaded into our ereaders — which, let’s be honest, we do.

For Martyn Daniels, a commentator on digital publishing and Bookseller Association blogger, as there is so “much out there, getting so much attention,” the question for all new discovery platforms like The Nudge List is “what do they want to do when they grow up?” In particular, “how are they going to make their money?”

It is easy to say the app has been downloaded so many times, but harder to quantify its value. Beyond that, he is “skeptical” about the whole concept of discoverability, believing that “the consumer doesn’t have a problem discovering things as there are thousands of ways to do so.” In which case “it is the other way round” — a marketing opportunity for the industry to try to reach an “eclectic” audience who might like a film but not want to read the book.

“So everyone wants to be in the world of discovery and I just don’t understand the benefits.” Although he admits there has been no “category killer” yet — “nothing that you want to look at the moment you wake up.”

An app is one thing, especially one that was developed on a relatively modest budget. But what of the umpteen millions of dollars spent on websites like Bookish and Small Demons, both of which appear to have had only modest success so far? Is all this talk of “discovery” merely the latest catchphrase designed to demand our attention and dollars — like “social reading” and “big data” — a bubble waiting to pop?

Perhaps such tried-and-true concepts such as publicity and book reviewing, handselling and shelf-talkers, marketing and bookselling are merely concepts tailored to the physical world and the digital world requires an innovation in our use of the language as well. Book discoverability may very well be the evolution of these concepts, compressed — and compression is perhaps the one thing the Web does best — into a single word.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted February 27, 2013 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    Call me old-fashioned but, no matter if the book is in digital format or in print, word-of-mouth and reviews are the best way to discover new books.

  2. Posted February 27, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with Fiona. Nothing better than a very good recommendation from a friend or family about a book. This is the best way to find out new books.

  3. Posted February 27, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I agree with both Negòcios and Fiona. Word of mouth and reviews are the basis for book buzz – though reliance on visual material like the Nudge Network proposes is a nice new approach that might just work in our heavily visual digital world: we love nothing better than videos on YouTube!

    This said, publishers can’t do much about word of mouth, but they could work harder at improving the reviews system. Actually, reviews is something traditional publishers have developed to a fine art, relying on the talents of (sometimes) well-known writers and literary critics to produce credible reviews that will inspire people to purchase books. It seems however that this works well in the printed paper world, not on the Internet. It’s Amazon that needs to catch up, taking advantage of their technical capability. Surely, Amazon customers could be prodded to produce better, more reliable reviews? The 5 star system is terribly subjective – to the point of meaning next to nothing, yet there are ways, especially in this digital age, to rate books more objectively and systematically – ways that haven’t been yet really explored…

  4. Posted February 27, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    The Nudge List is a GREAT idea! I only heard of it just now via your article which I stumbled upon via Twitter.
    Amazon is fast masquerading as the only fish (shark?) in the sea. The Nudge List needs advertising in itself. I have one book being sold on Amazon and in some Waterstones stores and a long novel out later in the year, but I’d rather sell NONE than have a fake 5 star review on Amazon. Readers complain that they bought recommended books on Kindle only to discover they were second rate to say the least. Who can we trust? In my town Waterstones promoted Katie Price …

  5. Posted February 27, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Since September last year, I’ve been keeping track of how I discover books. Here’s the tally thus far:
    4: blog
    4: goodreads friend news
    3: read author’s other books
    2: friend recommendation
    1: amazon surfing
    1: article
    1: flickr
    1: google search for topic
    1: kickstarter
    1: twitter

  6. Edward Nawotka
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    @spudart Interesting and diligent. Do you think this is impacted by the types of books you are reading?

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