Making books ‘discoverable’

One of the key problems facing the book publishing industry now is the decline in space for readers to discover books. As more bookstores closed and bookselling spaces are squeezed out with the movement to e-book and online marketplaces, the problem is how readers can connect to books. It’s a problem I’ve struggled with myself, before starting to work in publishing, where I now have loads of access to book recommendations through media, social networking, word-of-mouth and more.

The term ‘discoverability’ is becoming front-and-centre for book marketers looking to connect their products with a range of readers in new ways. One method is ‘tagging’; just as bloggers add relevant keyword tags to their blog posts to increase discoverability (through medium of search engines), it’s now possible, although not always a well-executed practice, to tag books with relevant keywords, geo-locations, etc. This system isn’t always used to its full extent, partially because tags cannot encapsulate an index of the entire book without great effort. Even then, a book tagged as Cleopatra, Egypt, queen, biography, power, and so forth won’t provide readers any added meaning without a relevant framework to bring that book to people interested in any combination of those topics tagged.

Today I read about Small Demons, a startup aiming to capitalize off obsessive behaviour by cross-referencing and tagging every person, place and thing (song, food, movie) mentioned in books. This action creates a ‘storyverse’ that will make unlikely a felicitous connections between readers and new books. Reading a spy novel in which the spy is in Hanoi? Presumably any other book mentioning that city will pop up in the storyverse, allowing you to follow a reading path of your choosing, discovering new books and authors in the process. Ideally.

An interesting proposition. I can say I’m yearning for greater meaningful discoverability of books. For me, the Amazon algorithm-generated suggestions — If you like this book, then you may want to try… — just don’t cut the mustard. The truly great discoveries of authors come when a friend or blogger says, ‘Oh, I loved this book, it was so similar to so-and-so’s writing.’ And that’s when I have my a-ha moment and discover a great new author. Harness that power of suggestion and comparison, and I’ll be one happy reader!

How do you ‘discover’ your next book? What do you think about the Small Demons model?