Waterstone's parent buys stake in 'social bookselling' website

HMV Group has "substantially" backed a social networking site called aNobii, which aims to help readers find buy and share books.

The website, www.anobii.com, has existed since 2006 but was bought recently by internet entrepreneur Matteo Berlucchi, who founded Livestation, a live TV streaming service. Its users span across 20 countries, with most traffic through Italy, Spain, Taiwan and Hong Kong, but this is the first time the site has been launched in the UK.

HMV Group c.e.o. Simon Fox is a non-executive director on the board after the group invested in a 45% stake. Simon Murdoch, who sold his Bookpages online bookseller to Amazon in 1998, is another non-exec director. HarperCollins, Penguin and Random House have each invested in aNobii but only "minor" stakes.

Users of the site can build their own shelves of books in an online profile, review books, recommend and share titles through Facebook and Twitter and talk with other readers on discussion forums. There is an aNobii app, which allows users to scan barcodes on the back of books and access hundreds of thousands of reviews from other users on the aNobii site, as well as add the books to their library.

The site is planning to launch a transactional service later this year for both print and e-books and was in discussions with retailers about who will provide it. Despite HMV Group taking the stake in the site, Belucchi said no decision had yet been made.

He said: "We want to create a social commerce platform that will allow people to find, share and buy books beyond the bestseller lists with an emphasis on creating an environment where people can talk about books they love. aNobii's knowledge and functionality for finding books and engaging readers gives the service we want to build a head-start."

An HMV spokesman said its involvement was to support Berlucchi, set strategic direction and help deliver business objectives. He said: "We believe that a combination of HMV Group's relevant customer base, interesting content from publishers and aNobii's existing online tools and technology will make this an exciting online destination for book lovers."

Berlucchi refused to disclose how much he paid in taking over the company, the number of UK users at present or how much HMV Group or the publishers had invested. He said while there had been several attempts at a book social networking site before, aNobii was the first to fully marry retail with social networking.

He said: "There hasn't really been anyone yet who has ventured into social bookselling properly. They have either been half-hearted from the retail side or through a closed social network. People don't want to have millions of different accounts; they want something integrated through Facebook or Twitter.

"Facebook has pretty much won the social networking battle so we might as well use that."