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Indie Booksellers Band Together, Launch "Anti-Amazon Book Club"

intuitionist-official-shelf-talkerHere’s a story which I’m not sure has real substance or is over-hyped clickbait.

Huffington Post has the scoop on a new online book club. Litograph has partnered with four indie booksellers to launch what is being called an "Anti-Amazon Book Club":

Litographs Book Club is taking one book recommendation from each bookstore each season — four at a time — and sharing the handwritten shelf talkers online.

"Bookstores have long known that recommending books is a craft, and it’s one they’ve perfected over the course of helping millions find their next great book," declares the press page for Litographs Book Club, in a not-so-veiled rebuke to Amazon’s algorithm-driven book recommendations.

The inaugural shelf talkers bode well: recommendations for Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws, Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda and Louisa Hall’s Speak reveal diversity in genre and author identity, and clearly show the workings of distinct personal tastes.

To participate in the digital book club, readers just need to pick one of the four recommended books online, depending on which fits with their genre preferences or which shelf talker piques their interest most. Litographs hopes to foster conversation by sending participants a temporary tattoo or computer decal inspired by their picks, offering discounted copies of the books available through certain partner bookstores. Readers can also submit their own shelf talkers to contribute to the conversation.

It looks like fun, doesn’t it?

I think so, but one thing it doesn’t look like is an "anti-Amazon" anything.

It is being pitched as more personal, as opposed to the Amazon stereotype of algorithmic recommendations. But that only looks anti-Amazon right up until we remember that Amazon employs book people to help program those algorithms, and that it hired booksellers away from the competition when it was getting ready to launch its bookstore.

Perhaps the one truly anti-Amazon element would have to be the shelf-talkers that Litograph creates for each book.  Where Amazon uses shelf labels that features automatically generated content (star rating, review snippet, and a book’s ranking on a best-seller list), Litograph’s shelf-talkers are simply clean pen and ink pitches for each book:

"We feel comfortable in the hands of people whose job it is to send you home with a good book," Jack Neary, Litographs' head of community, told The Huffington Post in an email. The hand-penned recommendations, he said, are "a natural extension of the warm customer service you’ll receive when you spend time browsing in a bookstore".

So what do you think, is this over-hyped or just a fun idea?


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Greg Strandberg November 17, 2015 um 12:31 am

I for one will be staying with Amazon.

fjtorres November 17, 2015 um 6:37 am

What about the other books in the store?
They recommend just four titles? To everybody? Amazon may use algorithms but their alsobots recommend different books to different people.

I don’t see much value. If I walk in looking for SF, it doesn’t matter how good a thriller they recommend might be.
This is more of a book promotional service for the publisher than a customer-focused recommemdation system.

Nate Hoffelder November 17, 2015 um 7:09 am

They’re personal recommendations, not personalized. This is a club for people who want books pitched to them, not chosen based on the customer’s interests.

TBH the only thing that interests me with this quarter’s selections are the free decals.

fjtorres November 17, 2015 um 8:35 am

I see it as a pitch to holiday shoppers: "No idea what to gift? Here’s four books you can say come highly recommended."

Its marketing.
Not that different from front table payola and still built on the idea that readers will buy whatever shiny thing you put before them.
Old paradigm redux.
They act like its still the 80’s.

Bridget McKenna November 17, 2015 um 12:38 pm

@fjtorres: I’m sure they’d be happy to bring the 80s back. It was before Amazon, and that’s good enough, right?

It reminds me of a comment a bookstore customer made to me–in the 80s, as it happens. She said she’d stopped reading Stephen King because "He writes on a computer now, so his writing is mechanical." So if we can stick up jolly book recs on the shelves it’s like going back to the good old days when "real" bookstores sold books and, I suppose, "real" writers chiseled novels onto stone tablets.

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