Five Types of Online Book Discovery

Andrew Rhomberg, Founder, Jellybooks

The challenge of ‘discoverability’ remains a favourite topic for the book industry: how do we ensure that we get the right books in front of the right readers at the right time and for the right price against a backdrop of increasing choice and competition for time. Andrew Rhomberg, Founder of Jellybooks, gives us his take on the different types of discovery and the exciting opportunities they present.

Last month Jellybooks celebrated its first anniversary. It has been an interesting year full of surprises, successes and setbacks and no shortage of learning about readers and publishers since our public launch.

Conversations about the ‘discoverability’ of books are ubiquitous right now, and rightly so  because book discovery presents a difficult challenge. We love to moan about Amazon’s “people who bought this also bought that” feature but if we have learnt one thing in the past year it is that book discovery is not a single eureka moment. Rather it is a journey consisting of many different touch points until somebody commits themselves to reading a book cover to cover,  and in the digital age we buy more [e]books than ever, yet finish fewer than ever before.

So here is the simple Jellybooks’ theory of book discovery and the strategies we have developed to help readers find new titles and authors find an audience.

1.      Serendipitous Discovery: This is stumbling over a book either randomly or in a semi-directed fashion (favourite genre, topic, etc.). This is not searching Google for “find me a book to read” (good luck with that). Rather this is what browsing a book shop or a library shelf is all about. We take pleasure in making great finds. The first Jellybooks release (code named “Cranberry”) was an attempt at creating online such a serendipitous browsing experience whereby you could scroll an infinite list of fabulous book covers on your phone, tablet or laptop while having a few minutes of spare time between meetings or waiting for a bus or for friend to arrive (and we still offer and continue to enhance that service at www.jellybooks.com).

 2.      Social Discovery: Sometimes it is friends who discover a book for us: these are books that trusted friends recommend to us through good ol’ word of mouth. Increasingly recommendations from our social circle are also happening on Goodreads (recently acquired by Amazon), Readmill, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other social networks. We try or buy a book after it was either specifically recommended to us – perhaps by email – or because somebody else shared their experience of reading the book with their friends and the world. Digital has changed social discovery by making it possible to share quotes, snippets or samples of an e-book with ease. At Jellybooks we have developed this into a set of tools for authors and publishers (project “Blueberry”) to fully take advantage of this by making book samples easily shareable by marking them up with the unique language of each social network so that the cover, title and brief synopsis appear with each post.

3.     Distributed Discovery: We make many discoveries when a book is mentioned in context, be it the review section of a newspaper, on a blog, at a conference, or as a note in another book. Increasingly we find these references link through to Amazon or Goodreads book pages and soon we will see more sophisticated ways of authors, publishers, reviewers and others embedding book samples within context. At the London Book Fair last week we launched (in beta) a tool set and API for DRM-free sample buttons – that are device and retailer agnostic – which can be used by publishers and authors to embed samples in in their own website or blog and which can also be shared with reviewers, agents, bloggers and others. Our thinking is that sampling comes before buying, and is thus a key touch point in the discovery process, and one worth enhancing.

 4.     Data-driven Discovery: Historically the bestseller list is an example of data-driven discovery, the sales figures acting as a filter – “the data” – to help us sort through newly published books. Whilst the traditional bestseller list is not personalized in any way ebooks provide the opportunity to create a tailored discovery engine  as last.fm does for music or Netflix does for movies.  This could take the form of an web app or and iPad app that that learns from our reading list, and those of our friends’, and makes recommendations to us, but is more likely to be embedded into a retail shop front or a reading app. This can be as blunt as Amazon’s recommendation system (which has inherent flaws due to the history and size of Amazon) or a subtle personalisation system that surfaces some books in preference to others without us even noticing, a very subtle form of hand-selling if you will.  We have barely scratched the surface of this type of discovery but more is sure to come, and technology, once again, is a key enabler. At Jellybooks we have been awarded a grant by the UK’s Technology Strategy Board to develop this further as part of a project codenamed “Elderberry”.

 5.      Incentivised Discovery: Be it a promotion, a book giveaway or a review copy, incenctivised discovery has been with us for a long, long time. Readers can be tempted by free book or a bargain. Increasingly we will see data-driven, social or personalized models for incentivised discovery. A free book might only be sent to those identified as influential within a certain niche whilst others have to pay full price, or a discount might only be available if a reader recruits a certain number of friends to also buy the book. Increasingly we might also be able to ascertain  willingness to pay. For example one reader might be willing to pay $9.99 to read it immediately,  whilst another might be tempted by a reduced price point in six months time. Technology will enable new models that were not feasible in the day of the corner bookshop and data mining will be critical to these new models. At Jellybooks we are launching just such a model (Project “Pineapple”) in the form of social group buying based on users past reading behaviour which rewards readers with discounts for sharing recommendations and buying books with others.

 By our reckoning “discovery” is alive and kicking, whether from a reader’s experience (even if they are not aware of it), or from the publisher’s perspective, where the challenge is all about how best to market a specific title in a world of increasing abundance where nothing ever goes ‘out of print’. The process of creating the new tools which support online discovery has only just begun, but what is not in doubt is that we are at the start of a major sea change in how books will be marketed.

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