Both Zola Books and Bookish are rather new to the ebook scene and they both launched to much fanfare but later fizzled. Zola Books launched in mid-2012 with the goal of being a major ebookstore by the end of 2013 (they missed), while Bookish officially launched in February 2013 after several years development.
According to the Zola Books blog:
At Zola we’ve been working to build the tools for that kind of serendipity for many months now. And we are about to take a huge step forward by joining forces with Bookish, a book discovery site that has the most sophisticated and unique book recommendation system on the web.
Bookish works differently from other recommendation sites.
They're absolutely right; Bookish is more of a marketing channel than a book recommendation site.
According to recent numbers given to Publishers Weekly, Bookish has relationships with approximately 50 publishers and some 600,000 titles in its recommendation engine. It was clear from the moment Bookish launched that it existed to promote books published by its 3 owners as well as anyone else who has a marketing dept. This leaves me a little puzzled because I'm not sure how that will jive with Zola Books, which promotes itself on the strengths of its exclusive content.
And that's not the only thing that has me puzzled today. To start, Bookish was originally started in 2010, then announced in 2011, but didn't formally launch until February 2013. The site was sold only 11 months later, which means that the site was under development for well over twice as long as it was operational before being sold.
And it seems to have sold for a very low price. Techcrunch has a statement from a Zola Books spokesperson which says that there were several bids for Bookish, but I find that hard to believe. Zola Books simply doesn't have the resources to get into a bidding war.
According to their Crunchbase profile, Zola Books has raised somewhere under $15 million in financing (it's not clear how many funding rounds they have had). That rather limits what they can afford to pay for Bookish, leading me to wonder if perhaps S&S, Random Penguin, and Hachette even recovered their initial investment and development costs.
Update: Publisher's Lunch is reporting that the 3 publishers sank "at least $10 million to $20 million in funding" into Bookish, so it's pretty clear that this was a boondoggle for them. Of course, that doesn't mean that Zola Books will have equally bad luck.
In any case, Zola Books is saying that Bookish will continue to operate as an independent site, while at the same time its recommendation engine will be incorporated into the Zola Books ebookstore. Zola Books will also be taking over Bookish's content deals, which means their ebookstore will offer a larger catalog.