Penguin Random House announced on Tuesday that it was closing the ironically named My Independent Bookshop, an innovative social network which did not belong to users, was not independent, and didn’t make for much of a bookstore.
Launched in April 2014, MIB encouraged readers to assemble and promote a bookshelf of their favorite titles (or, if you were an author, a shelf consisting of titles you wrote). Members could congregate, browse each other’s shelves, and if someone found a book they liked they could buy it through the site and whoever owned the bookshelf/shop would earn a commission.
Unfortunately, the sale was processed by Hive, a UK-based distributor, which limited the possible reach of each store. And since Penguin innovated by limiting each member to only listing twelve titles, there wasn’t much to attract readers to the site.
And so the site is closing.
I confess that I never really understood the site; it seemed based on the idea of micro-discovery, or limiting the possible connections a reader might discover when browsing another member’s bookshelf. Twelve titles is not enough to span a single sub-genre like alternate history, much less cover a reader’s entire Has-Read list (which could stretch thousands of titles in length).
With such a limited number of options, I didn’t see the point of returning to the site after you’ve browsed it for the first time. I thought wandering through Goodreads with its infinite bookshelves was a better use of time, and now we can see that readers agreed.
Nevertheless, Penguin is still spinning the closure as a positive. According to The Bookseller, the publisher sent members an email which said “We have had an amazing amount of support from everyone we’ve worked with, from independent bookshops, authors , publishers and of course you – our virtual bookshop owners. Together you made the My Independent Bookshop community a vibrant place to show off our latest literary loves and discuss the books that meant something to us.”
Given that PRH also revealed that only 20,000 books were listed on the site in the past 18 months, the word vibrant doesn’t fit. Twenty thousand books listed suggests that MIB had only a few thousand members. Lifeless, would be a better word to describe that site, or perhaps lethargic or inactive.
image by brewbooks