In the ebook world a lot of attention is going to a new hype, discoverability. There are a lot of ebook startups concentrating on finding interesting books for you and the publishing industry seems to be very happy with this trend. I have always ignored this trend, because I don’t feel the need for discoverability at all. I more or less have the opposite problem. I’m discovering too much! Information overload. Ebook overload. Every day I come across books that I want to read and this adds to my feeling of despair of there being too many interesting books. I try to limit this onslaught of interesting books by limiting myself to reading only high quality bookblogs. I’m a huge fan of sites like Brain Pickings and Farnam Street, but I’m limiting my visits to these sites to once or maybe twice a week in a matter of pure self-defense.
So why are publishers so interested in discoverability? Today I read an interview on LiveMint with John Makinson, the chairman of Penguin Random House. It is a good read, but then he said something that was kind of an aha! moment. John Makinson was asked about discoverability:
Question: One of the problems of e-retailing, some publishers have told me, is the discoverability of new authors has diminished.
John Makinson: I don’t think the problem is for publishers to discover the authors; it is easier to discover authors than it used to be because there is a large self publishing industry. So we are able to take a view of what is happening in the self publishing industry and then promote some of those authors who have been successful their own work as Penguin Random House authors. The problem is for, as you say, the readership to discover authors. Because if bookshops are of less importance in the overall economy of book publishing than they were before, then it would be more difficult for us to promote those authors. So the biggest challenge we face as an industry is how to crack the code of discoverability in a world with fewer bookshops. The challenge we are facing in the industry are more about the way in which the content reaches the reader rather than the nature of the content itself.
I had the aha! moment when I read the sentence: “Because if bookshops are of less importance in the overall economy of book publishing than they were before, then it would be more difficult for us to promote those authors.” Ok, now I understand what discoverability is all about. It has nothing to do with readers discovering the books that suit them best, it has everything to do with publishers being able to market their books the way they want.
In the good old days publishers made deals with bookshops and bought the best places in the bookshop to show off the books they wanted to be bought most. Look at that! The new bestseller by Penguin Random House bestseller author X! Just on that beautiful table when you enter the bookshop… Look dear, what I just discovered… That was what discoverability was all about in those days. But now the publishers have lost control and they desperately want it back. They can make deals with Amazon, but their relationship with Amazon is a bit troubled. You have sites like Goodreads, but wait, that one was bought by Amazon. So yes, I now understand why the publishing is waking up and looking for interesting startups in the discoverability scene. They slept and missed out and now it’s time to fight back. Good luck with that! One of my predictions is that discoverability isn’t going to be as big a deal as many in the publishing industry seem to think. And the reason is simple. I believe it’s not such a big deal to readers. There are plenty of ways to discover books, but most of them lack the control the publishers were used to. To me the whole discoverability thing is a nice gimmick, but not a game changer.