Bookish Has a Dirty Little Secret

bookish_logo[1]When Bookish launched a couple weeks back I didn’t think much of the site. The press release claimed that Bookish would be a great community that would help readers find their next book, only there was no community and the discovery engine was less than amazing.

I suspected at the time that Bookish would turn out to be little more than a marketing tool for the 3 publishers who financed the site, and today I learned that my suspicions were correct.

Peter Winkler, writing for The Huffington Post, noticed that all of the books promoted on Bookish were published by either Hachette, Penguin, or Simon & Schuster:

The top stories at Bookish when I first visited it on Feb. 5 were Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on Philip Roth’s advice to a novelist to quit writing, an interview with novelists Michael Connelly and Michael Koryta, the editors of The Onion reviewing Fifty Shades of Grey and The Art of War, and an exclusive excerpt from Harlan Coben’s latest novel, Six Years. There were additional interviews with Po Bronson, Rhonda Byrne, author of The Magic, her second sequel to The Secret, and children’s book author Lucy Hawking.An ad on the right side of Bookish’s main page, for Jojo Moyes’ novel, Me Before You, displaying Penguin Books’ iconic logo, set my Spidey sense tingling.

“Hmm,” I asked myself, “I wonder how many of these authors are published by the publishers behind Bookish?” A little sleuthing on my part quickly provided the answer: all of them.

I ‘m not sure that comes as a surprise; I had assumed that the claims of editorial independence were bunk.  I mean, why else would 3 publishers fund a site through 2 years of development if they weren’t going to use it to promote themselves?

But wait, there’s more. Not only does the editorial content focus on book by these 3 publishers, so does a lot of the rest of the content on the site.

Peter reports that all of the exclusive author content is provided by authors signed to the 3 publishers. There is also adverts on most of the pages, all for books published by Hachette, Penguin, or Simon & Schuster.

And even the discovery engine left a lot to be desired. In spite of the fact that this site ws originally announced in 2010, Peter found the results to be anemic at best. It wasn’t able to find his book when he typed in the title, but then again he wasn’t published by Hachette, Penguin, or Simon & Schuster. And it turns out that Bookish’s much-vaunted discovery engine can only recommend from a rather limited selection of titles – around 250k at the moment. That’s not even as large as the combined back list of Hachette, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster.

Anyone want to take bets on how long before Bookish is shut down as a failure?

My money is on Bookish not lasting 6 months (barring a major reorganization), but I could be wrong. But at the very least I am sure that most will agree that Bookish will die in a shorter amount of time than the site took to develop.

14 thoughts on “Bookish Has a Dirty Little Secret

  1. I’m not sure why this is written as if it’s a scandal, Bookish has been upfront about the numbers they were offering at the time of launch, as evidenced in press releases such as this one from Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/55808-bookish-goes-live.html
    From the PW link:
    “In addition to titles from the founding partners—Penguin Group USA, Hachette Book Group, and Simon & Schuster—Bookish includes titles from 16 other publishers, a list that comprises the three other big six houses plus companies that range from Abrams to Workman as well as Perseus and all its distribution clients and the clients of IPG.”

    Winkler’s book is published by a small independent press, Barricade Books, which is distributed by National Book Network. It simply was not going to be there yet, but that isn’t to say that the site is devoid of any independently published books by authors like him or that it won’t expand to include his book. As for the recommendation engine, it’s impossible to miss the number of books that the site is recommending from, as it’s listed directly beneath the search bar, “251,029 books and adding more every day,” at the time I’m writing. It’s not a large amount but they are being honest about it.

    It also seems logical that in order to launch the site (finally, after their many delays) they would pull from their own author resources to provide content, and as their authors and books are mostly bestselling or critically acclaimed, it’s not as if they are attempting to mislead readers. I expect that there will be many expansions and I suppose time will tell how the site really will be. I do agree that if the site remains as limited as it is now it will fail, but I see no reason at this time to act appalled and indignant.

    1. “In addition to titles from the founding partners—Penguin Group USA, Hachette Book Group, and Simon & Schuster—Bookish includes titles from 16 other publishers”

      At the time I wrote the article, there was very little evidence of that, and none of the featured author content then came from outside Hachette, Penguin, or S&S.

      Barricade Books has been around for over 20 years, and is an established, reputable publisher. Their size, and who distributes them, should be irrelevant to the inclusion of my book in Bookish’s database, especially since it’s been out since September 2011.

      But forget about my book for a moment. Patrick McGilligan’s biography of Nicholas Ray was published by HarperCollins in early 2011.

      “As for the recommendation engine, it’s impossible to miss the number of books that the site is recommending from, as it’s listed directly beneath the search bar, “251,029 books and adding more every day,” at the time I’m writing.”

      When I wrote my article, after visiting Bookish several times, this figure did not appear on their search engine until after I clicked for more details on Bernard Eisenchitz’s biography of Ray.

      I wasn’t suggesting that Bookish was hiding the number. I pointed it out because it shows why their “recommendation tool” isn’t very good: a limited database.

  2. Here’s the weird thing, though: Bookish has me and my books on it. I run my own small press and I publish my own series of novels as well as books by other authors. I’m not sure what other “discovery engine” there is, but I only see the search box at the top of the main page. If I type in any of my book titles, it comes up with a huge dedicated page–a really *nice* page. If I type in my author name, I have an author page. (Try it: *Mortal Touch* by Inanna Arthen. Would you complain if a site gave your book treatment like that?)

    I’m not bragging: My impression of Bookish had been exactly as you say, that it was another platform for big corporate publishers to showcase their own books. I was *astonished* to find me and my books on it–I searched just from mild curiosity. Of course, they don’t get *promoted* or anything, but they’re there. I can assure you that I don’t have even a tenuous connection with Hachette, Penguin, or Simon & Schuster. My company is the smallest of the small (although my first novel has netted me close to $20K so far) and I’m not on anyone’s radar in the big publishing world.

    This makes me wonder if Bookish really is going to continue expanding to small publishers and less, shall we say, well-financed titles. They’ve just launched. I guess we’ll see.

  3. We’re glad people are paying close attention to the editorial content on Bookish, and wanted to fill you in on the real story: Yes, it is true that at launch and in its aftermath we have had an abundance of material provided by our founding partners. We also have a wealth of content highlighting books and authors from all publishers, regardless of affiliation, and in the coming weeks and months you can expect to see more of this, in keeping with the spirit of editorial independence that informs our site. In addition, we’re excited to get pitches from a variety of sources on books and authors that are of interest to our audience. Feel free to send your suggestions to editors@bookish.com.

    Rebecca Wright, Executive Editor, Bookish.com

    1. The three exceptions you’ve mentioned in your subsequent comment hardly constitutes hardly constitutes “a wealth of content highlighting books and authors from all publishers, regardless of affiliation.”

  4. Currently on the site, we have:

    A featured interview on our homepage with Macmillan author Jamaica Kincaid, pegged to her new book “See Now Then”:
    http://www.bookish.com/articles/jamaica-kincaid-on-writing-and-outlaw-american-culture

    “Swoon: How To Be a Modern-Day Casanova,” which springs from “Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them,” by cultural historian Betsy Prioleau, who’s published by Norton:
    http://www.bookish.com/articles/swoon-how-to-be-a-modern-day-casanova

    An article entitled “Past Lives of Celebrities Revealed: Whitney Houston, Steve Jobs and More,” spotlighting Sylvia Browne’s “Past Lives of the Rich and Famous,” published by HarperOne:
    http://www.bookish.com/articles/past-lives-of-celebrities-whitney-houston-steve-jobs-and-more

    In addition, we hosted a Twitter chat today with Cory Doctorow, a Macmillan author.

    These are just to name a few–a number of other articles and lists on Bookish highlight books and authors from a variety of publishers and, of course, we’ve got plenty more on the way.

    Rebecca Wright, Executive Editor, Bookish.com

    1. Here’s what I saw on Bookish On Feb. 22, at approx. 10 pm PST:

      The top story is by Po Bronsom and co-author Ashley Merryman, whose book is published by Twelve Books, an imprint of Hachette. This, by the way is the SECOND time their book has been either a featured story or top story.

      The other stories from your editors are:

      “Parenting Tips From First Families”

      A gallery of five biographies (and one autobiography) of presidents whose families resided in the White House. The promised child-rearing takeaways are not in evidence. When I tried to read the sample from McCullough’s biography of John Adams, nothing happened. Here are the books and their publishers.

      John Adams. David McCullough. Simon & Schuster.

      Goodwin. Team of Rivals. Simon & Schuster.

      Schlesinger. A Thousand Days. Mariner Books, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

      Aida Donald. Citizen Soldier. Basic Books. Perseus Book Group.

      Clinton. My Life. Vintage. An imprint of Knopf, which is owned by Random House, which merged with Penguin.

      An interview with Meg Cabot, whose latest book Abandon Book 3:Awaken is published by Point, owned by Scholastic Library Publishing.

      Then we have Clive Davis picking his favorite music books. Davis’ autobiography is published by Simon & Schuster.

      If these stories are representative of your author content, its quality has gotten even worse than when Bookish launched. “Parenting Tips From First Families,” “The Top 10 Winners of All Time, and Clive Davis’ picking his favorite music books, are mindless, trivial filler that offer nothing more than transparent plugs for their authors’ books. They’re covert ads. It’s the literary equivalent of styrofoam peanuts.

      Bookish also continues to be decorated with ads for books from Hachette, Penguin, and S&S.

      Technically, you’re right. However, what I’ve seen of Bookish, having visited it again, has done nothing to change my opinion of the site. At least on some days, its content may not be exclusively devoted to product from Hachette, Penguin, and S&S, but the content is still very heavily weighted toward the books from those three, and Bookish continues to give off the strong impression that it is little more than a promotional tool for the publishers funding the site. Its content is negligible, and its book search engine is not very helpful.

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