January 22, 2014

Handseller takes personalized recommendations taken to the next level


Eagle Harbor Book Co. (via Actin' Up With Books)

Eagle Harbor Book Co. (via Actin’ Up With Books)

Indie bookstores are fundamental to literary culture. Unfortunately, many are struggling. Morley Horder, Rene Kirkpatrick, and Tim Hunter, of the Bainbridge Island, WA bookstore Eagle Harbor Book Co., have come up with a way to help: a software platform that takes customer data and uses it to make personalized recommendations to readers.

No, it’s not a Goodreads app, Wendy Werris of Publishers Weekly reports.

It’s Handseller, a new monthly subscription program exclusively for members of IndieCommerce. Debuted at last year’s Winter Institute in Kansas City to a handful of bookstores, Horder worked with software developer Theresa Savage to create Handseller as a way for customers to find new books that fit their tastes. Booksellers using the Handseller interface gain data on customer preferences that they can use to improve recommendations, potentially increasing sales. As Savage puts it, “Since the dynamic exchange of information between customer and bookstore is digitally stored, bookstore owners have a centralized set of customer information to improve customer service and to enhance marketing.”

With Goodreads now owned by Amazon, Handseller also provides an alternate location for independent bookstores to post reviews. The program also allows users to create profiles—-somewhat similar to Netflix profiles—that bookstores can then use to learn about their customers. Book addicts will also have the option to reserve books at their local indie store through Handseller and to compete with friends playing book-related games and quizzes, some for prizes that are redeemable at their local store. Unlike a straight recommendation app, Handseller also allows stores to run promotions if desired. “With Handseller, bookstore owners can also decide to offer a book-of-the-month package, or a book a quarter, or as requested,” says Savage.

Of course, Handseller is yet another program that demands access to your every wish, which will certainly creep out some potential users. But others will certainly find it difficult to dislike an app that could help them find their dream book while helping their local independent bookstore.

Handseller will be making its grand opening at the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute in Seattle this week, and will hopefully be available to all IndieCommerce sites by the middle of June 2014. A free trial will be given to interested stores; if they decide to use it, Savage says it will then be offered at an “affordable monthly subscription basis.”

ABA’s Oren Teicher is looking forward to the debut. “I’m confident that new tools that effectively help customers discover books through indie websites will be well-received by our members.”

Sadie Mason-Smith is a former Melville House intern.