December 20, 2012

Admit it, all you really want are lists of books


Because nothing says “fun” like memories of the school cafeteria.

Publishing industry newsletter Publishers Lunch has just launched a new site meant to be a resource for online book recommendations. Unlike other recent entries into the already Tokyo-subway-crowded field — the impressive Zola, or Bookish, the vaporware of online book recommendation sites — the new Bookateria has gnawed the book recommendation game down to it’s fatty, falsely-numerical marrow: ranked lists of books.

Other sites aggregate bestseller lists. Other sites list award winners. Other sites use a frankly laughable amount of grey drop-shadowing. But Publishers Lunch has opted to do only those things, and as a result, they may already be doing them better.

Publishers Lunch and the accompanying site Publishers Marketplace are aimed at the industry. Bookateria, though it contains links to retailers where the books may actually be purchased, is the same. It highlights lists because lists are useful — to publishers, to booksellers, to librarians. Bookateria does not have a needless social networking widget built in. And they are not recommending books themselves, at least not yet. There is no magic software behind their site: just the ancient and wondrous art of maintaining a few databases. As they write on the site:

Publishers Lunch Bookateria also provides a completely private environment for searching books. We do not identify or track your book browsing at all, and no algorithms will come to dubious conclusions about your reading habits.

And about those links: Bookateria has placed the link to the ABA’s Indiebound site up top, above Amazon, above the iBookstore (there’s a link you don’t see too often, eh?) even above B&N. If nothing else, that one choice has earned them my affection.

The press release announcing the new venture also mentions what might be the most salient detail about Bookateria: Random House is behind it.

Publishers Lunch Bookateria is managed and merchandised by the Publishers Marketplace staff, and was built and will be powered by Random House, Inc., which is providing technology, staff and support services. “Random House, Inc. is committed to providing readers with more discovery opportunities for authors and their books. Powering new online bookselling environments like Bookateria will enable us to do just that,” said Amanda Close, Senior Vice President, Marketplace Development at Random House, Inc.

This is in contraposition to, though seemingly not in competition with, Bookish, funded by Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Hachette.

The release quotes founder Michael Cader on the reasoning behind the new site.

“We know from our readers that every new deal report and daily news item triggers purchase impulses among our audience, who are avid book consumers” and Publishers Lunch founder Michael Cader said. “So we’ve long been looking for a solution that lets us connect the news and our proprietary data directly to a store environment to drive book sales, while supporting the entire bookselling environment, without favoring any one party or competing directly with booksellers who provide such a valuable service.”

I’ll be curious to see whether this simpler approach—one aimed at the industry—will, counter to expectation, result in any sales. I expect not. Cader’s comments aside, just as book events that attract a publishing crowd can expect almost no books sold, people who use online book lists are not the ones buying the books for themselves.

Then again, perhaps we’ve all been deluding ourselves all of this time. Clearly, as the year-end crop of “Best of” lists seems to grow with each passing year, we all think that people want to read lists of books. Maybe it will turn out that they want nothing but.


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.