Top Ten Places to Discover Books Online

Too many bookstores are closing their doors.  How will we find our books?

That’s the rub.

bookstore closedNot a massage kinda rub, but an OUCH! bruising kinda rub.

Plenty of studies show most bookbuyers find books in bookstores or libraries, through word of mouth, regardless of where they ultimately buy them.

Not online. Online is confusing and overwhelming.

A bunch of companies are trying to make online book “discovery” more user-friendly.

Will they replicate the bookstore experience? Never. But if they help readers find worthy books online, and keep the business of publishing good books alive, everyone benefits, even booksellers.

What do you think? Do these spots work for you?

Newest “Recommendation Engines”

1. Bookish was years in the making; it’s the result of a major collaboration between some of the largest publishers in the world. The look and concept is cool: type in a book you love and through miraculous algorithmic juggling, others you will love pop up. Plenty of bells and whistles; plenty of early praise and complaints.  Compared to Amazon: easier and cleaner; both less suspect and less powerful. Good people behind it; good luck to them.

Bookateria2Bookateria launched by PublishersMarketplace and Lunch founder Michael Cader with the machinery of Random House’s technology behind it. Not sure where it will go, but where it is, is a very clear and selective recommendation that steers you to books in the most user-friendly manner I’ve seen.  It’s visually satisfying–you don’t feel stupid trying to figure out how to navigate it. What I love: it doesn’t try to be all things to all people.  Instead, it grabs readers where they hear about the books to begin with, connecting book to promotion in a way that mirrors and complements our “brains on books.” So you’ll find “books in the news,” “Oscar tie-ins,” the latest prize winners–all easy to find.

3. Bookscout is a a Facebook App that will ” use your Book and General Interest “Likes” to scout out a hand-picked selection of book recommendations just for you. When you “Like” or “Add” a book, the book is displayed on your Newsfeed.” You know, this could be a good idea, but you need to be a pretty savvy FB user to use it.  Somehow, I suspect those of us looking for the clearest book recommendations aren’t on the top of the tech-savvy heap.  Just guessin’.

4. ZolaBooks isn’t so new–it launched almost a year ago–and is morphing. It began as  place Independent Bookstores could sell their ebooks without cowtowing to Amazon. (So if you wanted to support an independent bookstore and “shop” there online, Zola would fulfill the order.  Google Books used to do that, but stopped. I think.)  Zola planned to be very social, with all sorts of interactivity. Here’s what’s on the site now: “We’re still under construction, but soon we’ll be selling eBooks from publishers big and small. We’ll also be a place where you can connect with friends as well as your favorite authors, reviewers, bloggers, and indie booksellers.”

Established Engines

5. You probably know about Goodreads, the most popular online place to find book recommendations absent Amazon. Goodreads is great, if a little confusing.  TotallyGoodreads crowdsourced, meaning all the “best of” lists and reviews and such are chosen by other consumers.  Here’s their pitch: “Goodreads is a free website for book lovers. Imagine it as a large library that you can wander through and see everyone’s bookshelves, their reviews, and their ratings. You can also post your own reviews and catalog what you have read, are currently reading, and plan to read in the future. Don’t stop there – join a discussion group, start a book club, contact an author, and even post your own writing.”

6. Shelfari was acquired by Amazon a few years ago, and feeds people into Amazon as part of the deal.  Shelfari involves community members, encouraging contributors to become   “editors” and “librarians.” It kind of reminds me a little of a Wikipedia for books.  (Please feel free to comment, Shelfari users! I haven’t spent much time on the site.) There’s a kind of an Amazon feel about it; something that tells me eventually I’m going to be sold something. Not that I’m against being sold books, that’s what this is all about.  I guess when it comes to books I prefer to buy, and learn, and not be sold.

library thing, the lovable7. Library Thing is lovable. It bills itself as the “world’s biggest bookclub.”  You need to be, perhaps, a little computer savvy to use all the options (chats and such), but the attitude is so straightforward and friendly you just want to jump in.  Who wouldn’t love any site that dares to call a key navigation tab “zeitgeist?” A personal fave, here’s their pitch: “LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. You can access your catalog from anywhere—even on your mobile phone. Because everyone catalogs together, LibraryThing also connects people with the same books, comes up with suggestions for what to read next, and so forth.”

 Finding Fiction

8.) And now, thanks to  my friends at Publishing Trends, a UK fiction site that sounds great.  Here’s the skinny from them that found it first:  “Fantastic Fiction is a fiction reader’s dream, as it captures complete works by every author we have entered, sorts them by year of publication and series, offers short synopses, and has recommendations from most of the authors for others that they like. It’s essential when you’ve just discovered a new writer that you love.

What makes Fantastic Fiction unique is the focus on the author and how their work is organized. If you compare it to an Amazon author page, there’s no contest.. if you click on a particular book, you find out all the formats it has been released in; the site knows if you’re in the US or the UK and gives you information accordingly—including the availability of used editions with links to the reseller. If the same book has been published under a different title in another country, it is noted in parentheses. In other words, everything a new reader needs to know is shown–cleanly and simply.

For the avid mystery reader, the site is essential and the UK perspective is especially helpful…And it’s not just mysteries. Search for any fiction writer and you will find their complete works—even when it’s just a story in a collection! Try it; you’ll be hooked.”

9.) and 10.) Your local libraries and bookstores.  Their sites probably aren’t as snazzy or easy to navigate, but, back to the point: they are obviously put together by real people, who are, as I type, standing, in reality, in a place where they can reach out and touch real books. Most library sites now also offer books for sale, at least ebooks, and if you buy an ebook through your library, they get a little cash.  Same with the local bookstore–buy a book online through their site, and keep them in business another day.

Our book brains will thank us.

Your thoughts welcome.


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