Many of the publishing world’s biggest players came together on May 6 to announce a new joint venture. Bookish.com, set to launch this summer—though no one is saying exactly when that will be—is backed by such industry heavyweights as Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group (USA), and Simon & Schuster. And it isn’t just book publishers getting behind this project. The AOL Huffington Post Media Group is also on board.
But what does Bookish do? According to the press release, Bookish aims to provide readers with a personalized experience connecting them with their favorite authors and books through original editorial features, unique tools, and more. Without a live site it’s still kind of difficult to picture exactly what that means. Part online community, part recommendation engine, part bookstore, Bookish seems to be doing a little bit of everything.
Editorially independent, Bookish will be a place for readers to find content about books and authors from a variety of publishers—highlighting a wide range of genres and allowing readers to find their next books as well as recommend books to each other. With Paulo Lemgruber leading the effort as Bookish’s CEO, the site seems to be positioning itself up against any number of sites like Goodreads.com, apps like Visual Bookshelf on Facebook, or even Amazon. What sets Bookish apart from these established sites and tools? According to Lemgruber, “We will offer some great and exclusive editorial content, which combined with our recommendation engine will provide users the joy of discovering their next book.”
The venture is jointly owned by Hachette, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, but Lemgruber is careful to point out that the site will be editorially independent—including content about the entire spectrum of books, regardless of the publisher. Staci D. Kramer from paidContent.org reported that Bookish has been in the works for over a year, including a Bookish Reading Group on the Starbucks Digital Network. In regards to the reading group, Lemgruber told paidContent, “The main goal was to try and engage with readers and build an initial audience for Bookish.”
Lemgruber also told paidContent how he sees Bookish filling a need: “I feel that in the book space there is that eternal question what to read next? Bookish will try to answer that question for you, either through editorial or our recommendation engine, we will be always surfacing books you may like.”
With that in mind, the team behind the project is placing a heavy emphasis on the original editorial content as an audience driver. Does that mean publishing blogs? Book reviews? Author involvement? Lemgruber says, “All of that and more. We will have great deep content that’s not only book and author specific, but also genre specific.”
Huffington Post writer Laura E. Kelly wasted no time in starting the conversation about Bookish, but in her post “5 Ways to Screw Up ‘Bookish’” she addressed some of the ways the site could go wrong. At the top of her list was the fear that this could be just one more attempt at relevance by a stodgy industry. She wrote, “But let's face it, most publisher websites are bland, limited places that no one lingers on or goes back to. Bookish should be a brightly designed, magazine-model site bursting with infotainment. Borrow a leaf from HuffPo, which grabs you by the throat in featuring a dozen great headline links and photos before the fold, just begging people to click and dive deeper.”
More problematically, Kelly’s advice seems to steer Bookish away from its main goal, which Lemgruber says is to help readers figure out what to read next. Kelly thinks that focusing too much on recommendations or user reviews would be a hindrance. She writes, “Amazon, Shelfari, and GoodReads all specialize in reader reviews; we don’t need another place for that.”
“The value of having big publishers backing this Bookish venture really comes into focus if they offer us a chance to peek behind the publishing curtain, get some inside scoops, and feel invested in the story of the book and author,” according to Kelly.
On the business end, Bookish will have a dual revenue stream. On one side, there will be advertisements on the site. Lemgruber says that, at least in part, this is where AOL Huffington Post comes in: “They will provide access to their tools, but will also give us a wonderful platform for our editorial content. Additionally, AOL will act as our advertising sales team.”
Bookish, however, plans to also get into the book-selling business. Bookish is dedicated to working closely with book retailers, according to the press release, and in the coming weeks will reach out to explore ways to complement the retailers' efforts and enhance all reader experiences. “Bookish will be selling books on our site, both print and ebooks,” says Lemgruber. “We will not be in the hardware business, however.” In other words, this is not an ereader platform.
It will likely be a few more months before we see just what Bookish has in store for the reading community. With a buzz already building, and powerful backers—with authors at their disposal—this site may just bring something new and interesting to book lovers everywhere.