‘How many times in the last 10 years have you heard people moan that there is simply too much stuff around for them to read/listen to/watch?’
This was a question the author Will Self asked in 1994 in a piece about English culture, some twenty years ago. That would make information overload an issue for at least the last 30 years. Of course this is a ‘problem’ that stretches back into history.
Books remain extremely powerful cultural identifiers. For as long as there has been information and books, there has been recommendation, and nothing is more effective than one friend recommending a book to another.
We live in an increasingly algorithm-driven world, where artificial intelligence sifts through our choices and preferences and reflects these back to us in the form of our next read, or next watch. If anything this doesn’t open our sphere of influences but shrinks it, and ideas like ‘confirmation bias’ and the ‘filter bubble’ have emerged accordingly. Too often the web assures us that we’re always right and that we’ve got great taste.
But the art of great bookselling, and great publishing, is actually predicated on the idea that no-one knows what they want until they are introduced to it. And recommendation amongst friends is particularly special because someone who knows you intimately can put something into your hands (now often virtually) that they’ve discovered and want you to discover in turn.
We’re told that discovery is not a reader problem because there is an abundance of ‘content’ out there to swim around in. But getting lost in the data pool is a problem. We have a reader recommendation problem, where the humanity of giving a book to someone is being obviated.
Yesterday we launched My Independent Bookshop in closed beta, before a full public launch in early May.
My Independent Bookshop seeks to offer a platform for readers to showcase their taste – express their personalities through the books they love − and accordingly recommend reads to their friends, family, those they trust and people they don’t even know. You sign up and create a virtual bookshop of twelve books of your choice (from any publisher): 12 books about doomed love, 12 books that made you laugh, 12 books you’ve read twice, weirdest science fiction, deadliest crime . . . the possibilities are endless.
Then you can set your account to make tailored and personal recommendations to the community. We’ll also be running a programme of rewards through the site: giveaways, competitions and exclusives.
The final piece is that users can go on to purchase any book from your shop, and that purchase will be fulfilled by the hive network, comprising of hundreds of independent bookshops around the country. Users and bookshop owners can choose to connect their accounts with these real-world bookshops and those shops will see a share of any purchase through the site: one of the attendant benefits is to support your local bookshop by extending their community online.
In this way, the site doesn’t pre-empt or make assumptions about whether people are reading physically or digitally, discussing books on or offline. They are doing both. As such, it seeks to integrate the digital and the physical and put readers at the heart of that conversation around books that we can see thriving more than ever.
My Independent Bookshop creates a space for users to show-off, share and be inspired to read something new: ‘Share the books you love. Discover what you’ll love next.’ As long as there have been books, there have been people recommending them. This seeks to continue, and give new definition to, that tradition.
My Independent Bookshop is a new reader recommendation site for book lovers created by Penguin Random House in collaboration with Hive. Join the conversation before full launch in May: #myindiebookshop