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Laura E. Kelly

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5 Ways to Screw up "Bookish"

Posted: 05/10/11 03:41 PM ET

When the big news was announced last week that Penguin, Simon & Schuster and Hachette were teaming up to create a new online site to feature and promote books, the reader in me couldn't help but be intrigued: Could this publishing "dream team" put together a much-needed super-site addressing some of the current online needs of publishers, authors and readers?

I'm still excited and hopeful, but early statements from some of the people involved with Bookish have given me pause. As I see it, there are ways to do this right--and a bunch of ways to do it wrong.

So while it may be unfair to judge Bookish by its early coverage, let me suggest a list of 5 things that the creators of this site should strive to avoid--lest they fall into the trap of giving all of us book lovers what we already have or don't really need.

Don't...

1. Make it like a standard book publishing site (times 50).
There are more than 50 imprints owned by these three big publishers and a lot of them already have sites. 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. The more fun stuff featured on the home page of Bookish, the more readers will buzz it up and go back to it. Do a daily giveaway (and not always a book). Or "Featured Book Trailer of the Day," where people can vote and comment on it. And live author chats are a must.

2. Make it all about book recommendations (à la Pandora).
When I read that Bookish founder Paulo Lemgruber said, "The main goal of Bookish is to make recommendations about books that will appeal to a reader's particular taste," my heart sank. Amazon already does this in spades. Why compete with them (and who really finds Amazon's soulless algorithmic recommendations that useful)? Maybe Bookish has something exciting up its sleeve, like Pandora's revolutionary (and labor-intensive) Music Genome filtering system. But even so, this should be a sidebar, not the main feature of the site. If you really want to direct people to specific books, most readers would be happy with genre search boxes with three tabs: Newest Titles; Evergreen Titles; Overlooked Titles.

And speaking of "overlooked titles," another mistake would be to...

3. Allow hot new books and bestsellers to dominate the site.
Please don't let Bookish get taken over by a handful of books--i.e., the usual suspects. We've all noted the tendency of book publishers to throw most of their promotion resources behind their A-list titles. Yeah, we know: those big-name sales keep all the other boats afloat. But James Patterson is already ubiquitous; there's no value in showcasing him on Bookish.

The way to make Bookish visitors loyal and engaged would be to give us a stake in books beyond the bestsellers. Tout the other books on the list (and the backlist), all the passion projects and up-and-comers that get lost behind the mass-media klieg lights focused on the same 5 books.

4. Let it get taken over by reader reviews and voting.
Amazon, Shelfari, and GoodReads' all specialize in reader reviews; we don't need another place for that. Plus we've all learned how these reader reviews can be skewed by a few super reviewers, readers with an ax to grind, or even authors and their friends pointing people towards their books (and away from their competitors). If we love this kind of compromised, nonprofessional reviewing, we know where to find it.

Book reviews should be part of the mix of the site, though. I would welcome an aggregation of professional book reviews, including those of the best book review bloggers. Just don't turn the site into primarily a review site, even if by some miracle it comes out of the gate as robust as RottenTomatoes.com.

5. Focus on just content curation (easy) rather than creation (hard).
Ideally Bookish would be a mix of really cool content that they both curate and create. Great professional reviews, author interviews and Q&As, trend stories, and, yes, book gossip--they're all out there right now in newspapers, magazines, and on NPR but we miss them every day. I hope to see them aggregated and touted on Bookish, with lots of room for our comments.

But I also want to see more than curation. Yes, publishers have lots of great unsung content on their sites (such as Random House's Word and Film subsite) but I hope Bookish brings in real journalists to do a sprucing up of all the material taken from the publishers' sites. Give us more interesting, better written interviews, profiles, news items, and videos.

And give us some "insider" stuff. I, for one, would love to hear directly from an editor why he thinks a certain book's time is right now, or from a bookseller about how a book spoke personally to her. 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.

So that's my 5 ways to screw up an exciting-sounding online book site backed by big publishers. There are probably many others. What comes to your mind?