By Chad W. Post
One of the key buzzwords of this BEA is “discovery.” In an age of abundance (as reported last week, more than 3.2 million books were published last year), getting your book to cut through the noise is a very complicated, yet essential, matter. This is especially difficult in the digital marketplace, where there are no bookstore displays to facilitate “happy accidents,” and no booksellers to match favorite books with loyal customers.
That said, books are the third most searched category online (after movies and weather), and every day more and more people are finding books through a variety of Internet tools.
Bringing together four digital experts, this morning’s panel on online book search explored some of the issues surrounding this topic, including what publishers need to be doing (metadata! metadata! metadata!) and what programs are being developed to facilitate online book discovery.
Liz Scheier, Editorial Director of Digital Content at Barnes & Noble, started the session by explaining the three distinct groups of customers BN.com has identified: the mainstream buyer who wants the latest thing, buys it and leaves; the engaged readers who uses the site exploring titles they may not have come there to buy; and the value customers who are seeking out $.99 bargains and probably arrived there via social media. The engaged readers are the ones B&N (and everyone, really) is most interested in, since they spend the most, generate the most profit, and are influenced by various online discovery programs.
According to Molly Barton, Director of Business Development at Penguin (and Book Country), despite our love affair with all things digital, a survey from this past winter found that 40% of hardcover sales were due to bookstore displays and traditional publicity. It seems — and seems completely logical — that major media pushes books into the social media recommendation realm, where that initial push lingers.
In terms of online recommendations, GoodReads CEO and founder Otis Chandler talked about the way the GoodReads community functions in terms of serving as a virtual catalog and a way to get solid recommendations from your friends and family. The exciting development for GoodReads is their recent acquisition of a algorithm that will combine various book evaluations with friend comparisons to generate book recommendations.
This isn’t dissimilar from what’s going on with the Book Country website, which had a soft launch a couple weeks ago, except for the fact that Book Country is only focused on particular genres of writing, namely romance, mystery, and sci-fi.
The most interesting discovery tool recommendation of all happened to come from the audience. One attendee suggested a sort of “Google Art” for bookstores to allow visitors to virtually check out the Elliot Bay front table, or the variety of displays in the Union Square B&N. This would be a very interesting way of blending the coolness of indie bookseller recommendations with the capabilities of the Internet. Unfortunately, the panelist sort of misinterpreted the suggestion, instead resorting to explaining the benefits of their particular crowdsourced discovery enterprises. Sometimes the most simple things are the most difficult to see . . .