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Why online book discovery is broken (and how to fix it)

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Figuring out how to get their books discovered online isn’t a new problem for publishers, but it’s one that is becoming more pressing as channels and competition proliferate. New research shows that frequent book buyers visit sites like Pinterest and Goodreads regularly, but those visits fail to drive actual book purchases.

Sixty-one percent of book purchases by frequent book buyers take place online, but only seven percent of those buyers said they discovered that book online, while physical book stores account for 39 percent of units sold and 20 percent of discovery share: the stats come by way of new research from Peter Hildick-Smith, the founder and CEO of the Codex Group, which tracks frequent readers’ book-buying behavior. At the Digital Book World conference in New York on Thursday, he said that discovery and availability are being “decoupled” online. In other words, readers are likely to go online to buy a book after having learned about it elsewhere.

This wouldn’t be such a problem for the publishers and authors who want their books to be discovered if readers weren’t migrating their book-buying (both print and digital) online, but they are. (s AMZN) accounted for over 25 percent of all book sales between January and September 2012 and 30 percent of dollars spent on books, Bowker research in another panel showed. Further, former Borders customers shifted their book-buying online and primarily to Amazon — not to other physical bookstores — when Borders went bankrupt. All together, this means that readers who would once have discovered a new author by browsing in a physical bookstore might never encounter that author now. (The shift to online buying presents particular difficulties for nonfiction: Twice as many works of nonfiction are sold in physical stores as online.)

“Something is really, chronically missing in online retail discovery,” Hildick-Smith said. But what might that something be? It’s not as if book buyers aren’t using online sites like Pinterest, Google and Goodreads — they are, but as the slide below shows, those sites simply aren’t converting to actual book purchases. (Note that apples aren’t compared to apples here: Amazon is compared to “Internet booksellers,” for example, and Goodreads is compared to “book-related websites.” What this is means is that the actual percentage of book purchases driven by any single site are even lower.)

© The Codex Group 2013, reproduced with permission and not for reproduction.

So how can book discovery improve and what can publishers do? A few ideas presented throughout the day:

Publishers should do more to protect physical bookstores

“Physical retail works if you protect it,” Hildick-Smith said. “Movie producers do [protect movie theaters]. I would argue publishers are not doing enough to help bookstores.”

In another panel, Michael Cader, the founder of, noted that a lot of online book discovery (especially through Amazon) is driven by sales like the Kindle Daily Deal. “Price has been a big driver for online and particularly for ebooks,” he said. “Price innovation is what’s driving those markets. We haven’t seen price innovation at physical retail. Where are the daily deals in the physical bookstore?” He suggested that publishers, authors and retailers could work together to provide those deals.

New players in book retail

Simon Lipskar, the president of literary agency Writers House, imagined a possible outcome of the Random House-Penguin merger: “I would be totally shocked and actually completely disappointed if this merger did not lead to a serious entry into book retail,” he said. “We should not be surprised if that is physical retail as well as online retail.”

Hildick-Smith separately warned that entering digital book retail is very, very expensive. “The bar has been raised stratospherically high,” he said. “It’s big-stakes stuff. The biggest companies on the planet are wrestling for our little piece of turf.” But Random House Penguin might be large enough to stand a chance of competing against Amazon, Apple (s AAPL) and Google (s GOOG) on ebooks.

Amp up the reader reviews

As bookstores go away, “we need more powerful book reviewers online,” said Matthew Baldacci, VP and associate publisher at St. Martin’s, in a panel on discovery. He was referring not to professional reviewers for outlets like the New York Times but citizen reviewers with a role similar to “the role that booksellers used to take…if we’re forced into a situation where physical bookstores are going away, then we have to have these people who are help us sell our books.”

Allison Underwood, senior marketing manager at Open Road, underscored the importance of online reviews for books. The company has run “what we considered to be really strong online promotions,” but if the reader reviews on retail sites aren’t there to back the promotions up, they can fall flat. “You can have a really grand online campaign that gets the user right there, but then [a lack of reviews] can shut them down really quickly,” she said, to the point where “a red flag goes up and says, ‘Maybe you don’t actually want to buy this book.'”

For more on book discovery, see this follow-up post: Here’s the problem with book publishers’ discovery problem 

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock / Borys Shevchuk

68 Responses to “Why online book discovery is broken (and how to fix it)”

  1. Very interesting article and JJJ (the Books4Spain cat is JJ but no relation!) is absolutely on the right track. We have implemented some of these in Books4Spain (exclusively online and specialising in books about Spain) – both on the website and on our blog, for example:
    independent “expert” reviews
    author interviews and links to them and author blog from book result page on our website
    ability to but non DRM ebooks and Kindle books direct
    Win books competitions
    Lots of added value content on blog
    Our favourites, special offers, recommended books, popular books and featured authors on website
    All this via a software platform which we have developed in-house and re Hildick-Smith warning that entering digital book retail is very, very expensive – that is not necessarily the case since we intend to license our software platform on a white label ASP basis to other independents (retailers and publishers) at a very reasonable price. The “expense” is in “managing” the content but this after all is what good bricks and mortar booksellers already do.

  2. Dan Conover

    Did I read this right? Was the first take-away from this piece a recommendation that we protect the status quo? Was the second essentially a suggestion that big publishing entities merging and spending more money would somehow clarify the market? Was the third really just that readers read reader reviews?

    IMHO, whether we’re talking about news media or books, the flaw in Paid Content’s analysis seems consistent. I can always rely on your outfit to devote itself to solving the wrong problem, because the audience you serve is the publishing/middleman class. You may argue that the distinction is overly subtle, but I consider it fundamental: If you’re trying to solve the problem of the book seller, rather than improve the experience of the book reader, you’re doomed to an profitable but never-ending loop of “not quite getting it right.”

    Book discovery IS an issue. And the sites you mention are underwhelming experiences. But the problem with your analysis is that as a reader, I want to find books that are relevant to me, not books that your clients want to sell. Solving my problem will actually help people sell more books, and systems based on that goal will be successful. But book sellers and publishers aren’t likely to invest in that model, because effectively addressing the “help people find the books that are relevant to them” model moves the industry from a top-down vertical system to a networked, horizontal one.

    • Hey Dan, it’s a fair point that these recommendations are publisher/bookseller-specific — which is not that surprising because this piece is discussing a conference that was aimed at exactly those audiences. It’s true, also, that paidContent is first aimed at a business audience. In book publishing, that does include publishers, editors and agents. But increasingly these days it also includes self-published authors who are grappling with this stuff as they try to publicize those books. And it includes many readers who work somewhere in the tech industry but not in book publishing, and who are interested in this stuff because they like books.

      I’ve tried to sprinkle more recommendations for book discovery sites throughout the comments here, and I think the interest this has sparked may warrant a more thorough discussion of the various startups and companies that are trying to address book discovery, so stay tuned.

  3. I think the problem is that book sites are about books, but books themselves are about and are only interesting for specific topics of interest. My guess is frequent buyers become aware of books or other media by way of their topical interests, either online or not. Goodreads (the only book site I’ve tried) has discussion threads each dominated by a few contributors, who the visitor takes to or not.

  4. As a fairly heavy book buyer, I find reviews in the weekend press the best source for discovering newly published books. The expert nature of the reviews is crucial in taking me towards a purchasing decision. Of course, this doesn’t work for specialist books that won’t appear in weekly review sections,

    • I completely agree with you TommyB, that’s how I look for books too! I read the NYT (and a few other specialized magazines but not as assiduously) and what I look for is an expert review, something solid from someone who clearly knows the difference between good and bad literature. When the review is well done, I find I’m convinced and I invariably go buy the book. This is what Amazon can’t achieve because it relies solely on customer reviews that are often quite unprofessional, alas…

      What Amazon should do is move its program of top reviewers one step further and make it professional, open it to literary critics perhaps, I don’t know, but something needs to be done! As it is, I know I don’t use customer reviews on Amazon to decide on a purchase and I wonder who does…

  5. What an interesting debate and thanks Laura for sharing the information, the diagram in particular is fascinating!

    While Amazon is surely the best online site, including for book discovery, I still think it could be improved. Yes, you can Look Inside and Search the book but the emphasis is still on price – when the emphasis should really be on the theme/content/story.

    In the physical world, that’s what you do when you walk into a bookstore: you head for the shelves that show the kind of stuff you’re interested in, whether it’s romance or biographies. I know you can search by key words on Amazon but somehow, the genre classification is clumsy, bizarre and often incorrect (because based on what authors say what their books are…)

    So yes, I’m convinced online bookstores like Amazon et al. still have a long way to go before they can actually support effective book discovery. Not to mention the recent hoopla about sock-puppet reviews on Amazon and authors buying reviews (like John Locke supposedly did – all 300 of them or so people say…)

    • No Amazon is NOT the best place to go for books. It is crowded with books which by their very nature and individual quality are not the best, and are only used by Amazon to stuff their suffering catalog so Amazon can look big. Amazon is like a decorator crab, and not the best place to find books. This has been so ever since it diversified and began to expand into other products. Now, many authors can’t even find their books themselves. It does have an effect on sales and promotion in that Amazon does not bother to advertise the books, only its various ereader devices; and the books are offered for free as fodder to feed sales of the readers. This does nothing to help writers who rely on royalties to pay their bills.

      Many independent authors who have their own sites post keywords which are supposed to point people looking for good books to their sites and book pages. It does not help when giant search engines deliberately delist sites which have been there for years just because they won’t host other site ads. We are out there, promoting, advertising, putting up videos people don’t watch, announcing books only to get crickets. If you want us fully engaged in offering really good entertainment, stop pushing the free option.

  6. Enticing book descriptions and over-the-top sales pitches fall flat without validation. Book hype comes from authors, publishers, and booksellers–those who cash in when a book sells. That’s why many book buyers turn to reviews for the lowdown. Enter authors, publishers, and booksellers–yes, again.
    The lack of credible, unbiased reviews online has created a disconnect between discovery and action. Customers are left not knowing what to believe when they ponder a book purchase; making an informed decision becomes a game of roulette.
    At one end of the review continuum are authors and publishers who, using fake names, litter competing books with vague, unfounded one-star reviews in hopes of redirecting would-be customers to their own books. Such literary smear campaigns cheat readers out of potentially good reads, and rob authors and publishers of potential sales. At the opposite end of the continuum are authors and publishers who, again, using fake names, shower their own books with glamorous five-star reviews in hopes of boosting sales. Such embellishment usually leads to buyer remorse, which, in turn, leads to bad reviews. Backfire!
    Some online booksellers have taken measures to ensure review integrity, but none have succeeded. In fact, one retailer, who routinely deletes five-star reviews believed fake, but who doesn’t delete fake one-star reviews, openly states that people are not required to purchase or read a book in order to review it on their web site. Say what? Yes, it’s true. Strong and fair quality and integrity controls for online reviews are needed across the board. Customers should be able to read genuine book reviews and make informed purchasing decisions without getting sucked into the invisible whirlwind we call bookbiz cut-throat drama.

  7. My comment was chopped off. Here is the full text of what I wrote:

    I like looking for the occasional book by a relatively unknown author. Amazon does not make this easy. Amazon is more about the popular authors. Often the top of the lists at Amazon are flooded with books by only a handful of authors.

    If I go in a physical bookstore, I am going to see books that are by known authors, and relatively few authors at that, when you compare to how many authors are selling books. So they aren’t as good for my purposes as Amazon. At least at Amazon I have a larger selection to choose from, even if I have to click a lot of buttons to get to what I’m looking for.

    But I usually have better luck searching Twitter to find books and authors I think I might be interested in. Pretty much every book I’ve purchased recently has been discovered through Twitter, and typically because the author is running a promo for a free download of the Kindle book on Amazon.

    Admittedly, not all of the books I discover through Twitter have been winners, and I doubt I’ll ever buy other books by some of those authors, but they were successful at least in getting me to discover them. There have been a few of these authors whose works were good enough to convince me to purchase more of their books with real money.

    The thing with downloads of free promos is that the reviews really don’t matter that much. It’s easy to click the button to accept a free book on your Kindle. You don’t have to scroll down and read reviews; you can read any or all of the book you want to see what you think of it. IF I do like it, and the author has more, similar books, then I’ll be inclined to buy them. If the author only has the one book, well, then giving it away for free will only help if the people who download it for free actually review it, the reviews are good, and other potential buyers read the reviews.

    So I think one of the best things an unknown author can do to get discovered and to sell more books is to have multiple books out there, to make sure their books are the best they can be, to give away one of them for free, and to make sure to announce the free download promotion through every social media channel they can.

  8. rahuliffic

    Do people rely on curated sources like newyork times bestseller lists to discover books? We (at are thinking of creating numerous curated lists – like bestselling books, jon stewart books, bill gates books, critically acclaimed books, award winning books and many more – to enable book discovery. I realize lists exist on goodreads and amazon but think the feature can be improved upon.

  9. Perhaps there’s too much talk about everything else that is not the book. Polarizing the discussion to the marketing/publishing/commercializing side of things almost makes it sound like there needn’t exist a good book to be sold. So my questions would move more in the direction of ‘how much effort is being put in the craft of writing? In the craft of story-telling? In developing and pushing story-telling styles, stories, narratives?”. This of course may sound off-putting — in the eyes of every writer trying to sell his or her book, the book is indeed a great one. But have we become concerned first with how to sell a book and second with how to write a great one?

  10. Melissa McCann

    Weird and frustrating.
    I discover new books and authors online all the time–almost exclusively. Through e-zines, conversations with authors and readers on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. Where the heck are other people finding them?

  11. Peter Kay

    Adding to the mess of how do we measure word of mouth, the meaning of last-click attribution in a world where many of the inputs can’t be measured, is the fact that different types of books require different strategies, and that there will never be a silver bullet.

    And as charmless as the Amazon browsing experience might be, I have a feeling that more discovery happens there than we all might be assumong

  12. I read mostly non-fiction, and I buy much (but not all) of it from Amazon.

    Amazon used to have an “alert” feature that would notify me of new books meeting my search criteria (subject, title, author, etc.). For some unexplained reason, Amazon removed its alert feature several years ago.

    Although I can do the same searches manually, it means I have go to their website periodically and do my (several) searches by hand, which is a real PITA compared to the automated search they used to offer.

    I’d like to see every book-related site offer an alert feature (e.g., like the one offered by ABEbooks for used books).

  13. But here’s what’s missing: Where did they discover the books? PR that they read on a blog, heard on a radio or saw on TV?

    And, how reliable is self-reporting? People don’t have clear memories like a click stream measurement tool would. I’m pretty suspicious about this research, as it fails to paint the complete discoverability picture.

    I’m not buying that 93% of discovery is offline. Where’s blogs in this measurement? How likely are people to remember that they heard about it (for the third time) on Facebook? Much research suggests that it takes multiple impressions (think discoveries) to convert someone into a buyer. That’s not accounted for in this research.

    Tim Sanders

    • David Thomas

      The only way to really address this is with funded polling research. BISG has a lot of data — and they charge a lot for it. A slice of one of my favorites was published in PW several years ago — a survey conducted outside a Manhattan B&N with 8 options that participants prioritized discovered that the biggest motivating factor for purchasing a book was a recommendation from a friend.

  14. I’m more interested in the statistics in the arrows in the slide above. These seem to attempt to capture the conversion rates of different sites – i.e. the percentage of people who visit a site and then go on to buy a book they have discovered there. (I missed the presentation so didn’t hear how Peter presented it.) Author sites have the highest conversion rate – 76% – which makes sense. If you are visiting an author site, you likely have extremely high interest in their books.

    The second highest is Goodreads at 29% compared to Amazon at 10%. You can see that there is a very big difference between Goodreads and a site like Pinterest which has a conversion rate of 1.6%. So, it’s not accurate to compare us to them when you are looking at this slide.

    Some people have been confused by the 5% figure for Goodreads. That shows the percentage of people in the survey who visited Goodreads in the past week. To give some context around this, we now have 14 million members, up from 6.5 million at the beginning of 2012. We have a huge opportunity ahead us as there are around 88 million Americans who are avid readers (reading 11 books or more a year). As we grow our membership, Peter’s 29% conversion rate for Goodreads starts to get even more interesting.

    At Goodreads, we measure things a little differently. Our key metric is people adding books to their “Want to Read” shelf. Every second, 3 books are being added to “Want to Read” on Goodreads.

    As for reader reviews, I highly recommend checking out the influence of reader reviews in the break-out success of Slammed by Colleen Hoover in this case study on our blog:

    • David Thomas

      The fundamental problems of Goodreads is shared by many sites with customer reviews, most prominently Amazon. There is an automatic suspicion factor, discounting the opinions quite a bit; there is the extreme pile on of repetitive, overwrought and/or pithy commentary — volume doesn’t make up for quality; and then there is just the weird show-off aspect of the act of participating with an account. And is there metrics for how long a “want-to-read” status remains for books? When they’re dropped off the status? How many actually convert to “reading” status? Just by focusing on a rate that supports a favored narrative isn’t exactly unbiased analysis.

      • I think that the way people use Goodreads varies dramatically from user to user. I use it primarily as a way to keep track of what I read: I add every single book that I am reading to Goodreads, and when I’m done I rate them based on a system that is only really useful to me (5 stars=A, 4 stars = B, etc.) I don’t write reviews though and I don’t really engage with other users, for better or worse. There are definitely other sites that I could use solely to track what I read, but Goodreads is what I started using 500 books ago and I’m not really inclined to switch to something else now.

        I do think that some of Goodreads’ recommendations are good, though. The monthly newsletters where the company tells alerts you to new books from an author on your shelf are pretty useful.

  15. LighthousePublishing

    Lots of great comments but consider we are doing this… online – not in a B&N cafe. That tells us all we need to know about how information (including information on books) is shared today and in the days to come.

    • David Thomas

      In my life with books and reading, this exchange is only one facet of discussion that includes a lot of in person discussion with friends and family, actual newspapers, and actual booksellers. I don’t want to use myself as an all-telling anecdote. However, I think it is fundamentally wrong to assume anything of online social media is doing anything more than supplicating rather than replacing real human interaction.

  16. Peter Turner

    Good post, going to heart of the challenge facing publishers, readers, and authors in an online world.

    I would say the underlying legacy issue is that role the booksellers played in a pre-internet age goes largely unrecognized and un-replicated. Each bookstore, as an expression of the owners tastes and proclivities, along with customer input (from requests, special orders, sales, etc.) informed what books were stocked in that particular shop. Think about it. With 300,000 new books published every year and 2 million in print (these number are pretty steady before the advent of self-publishing and digital publishing of public domain works)–every bookstore represent a refined ecosystem of only 10s of thousands of books, constantly changing, reflecting the various inputs of buyers and owners tastes. This is what made browsing possible. And, of course, each buyer probably only browses and buys in a small handful of categories. Some buy art, film, literary criticism, some biography and narrative-nonfiction, some psychology, self-help, religion.

    This model doesn’t work online so the way in which we browse or come to find out about books we’re willing to buy is indeed broken. It can be fixed–or rather reinvented–but not via the Amazon big box approach and not by trying to replicate the instore experience.

  17. I use blogs and mainstream sites (like NY Times) as a trigger to find new books and Amazon to browse around and find connections. I’ve played with GoodReads but it just isn’t for me.

    At least part of the problem I think is that readers don’t self-identify themselves as passionately into niches/communities as, say, music lovers do….or maybe the groups of readers I’d be interested in — good literary fiction — are just too small, unfortunately…

  18. Jeff Cross

    It’s “broken” because it’s nothing more than keyword matching–I’ve lost count of the number of times Amazon has offered me every single variation of a book I already own.

  19. Online book browsing is a miserable user experience. Programmers have no clue how to make it friendlier and sites like Amazon could care less as long as sales are hot. Some things simply don’t translate well from the physical world to the cyber world. Leisurely browsing in a bookstore for an afternoon is one of those things. The other aspect is that you have an age gap. Young people don’t mind doing everything from a pc, older people still like to get out of the house and touch things. As for Goodreads type sites, again it’s a lame attempt to emulate the real world and it falls flat. I don’t want to chitty chat with people about some book that I had to find using keywords, I just want to look at a shelf full of colorful covers and go from there.

    • Leah Raeder

      “Online book browsing is a miserable user experience.”

      Speak for yourself, Rick. I’ll take Amazon’s Look Inside and Search features–plus the convenience of having my browser open to Google anything else I want to know about the book and author in question–over stumbling through a poorly-stocked brick-and-mortar bookstore any day.

      • Rick, you get at one of the challenges here — whether book recommendations should be social (driven by friends, based on what your friends are reading, etc.) or whether it’s better to recommend books based on things that people have read before.

        Startups like Zola are attempting to recreate the bookstore’s handselling experience by allowing curated virtual shop windows and recommendations that way. Goodreads makes it easy to add friends, but there’s not a super-easy way to compare the books on your Goodreads shelves with those of other users so that you can find those who’ve read a lot of the same books you have. I like and use Goodreads to track my own reading but I think it needs a serious interface update.

      • Laura, after reading and commenting on your recent post, “Here’s the problem with book publishers’ discovery problem” I thought to come here and read the comments to see what people say about goodreads.

        You bring up a good point about comparing the books on your shelf with other’s. That would be handy. The primary way I use Goodreads is that I bookmark the homepage and check the stream of what books my friends are reading. Part of the problem with that is 95% of the books I’m not really interested in. So it could be more efficient. But I’m find with wading through the stream every day. Plus, it’s fun to hear people’s comments about other’s posts and books.

    • Libraries as a source of discovery weren’t mentioned in this particular presentation but, in my own personal experience, they are a great place to discover new books. I am not sure how much *purchasing* they drive. I’ll look for some more stats for you on this, but you might want to search the #DBW13 hashtag on Twitter, because there WAS a panel on library discovery later in the day.

  20. Andrew Rhomberg

    Most publishers fundamentally still only care about sales an marketing is about geerating sales.

    The problem about how readers discover books and how to create an attractive online book discovery experience is something publishers generally don’t care about at all.

    You will notice that when publishers talk about book store discovery, they talk about the techniques that are understood to work well for promoting specific titles: displays, end-caps, caps, ladders, promotions, etc

    For publishers it is always about how will *their* books be discovered (typically latest releases)

    It is certainly a lesson we learnt the hard way at – I am not saying it is wrong (publishing is a business), but it was very revealing when we finally understood how the mindset works.

  21. Aisha Washington

    I think a general flaw with this kind of research is that its almost impossible to attribute the action (a purchase) to a single driver or point where the purchaser ‘first’ heard about a book.

    For example, I bought two books last week ‘The Granta Book of the African Short Story’ – I’d been reading some essays by Chinua Achebe, I wanted to read more African writing and had googled The African Writers Series, from there I think I found something about Helon Habila and when searching for him on Goodreads found he had edited the Granta collection. I saved the book to read later, and a few days later purchased it online from Waterstones to collect instore. While instore, I also picked up a copy of ‘Gone Girl’. I think I first heard about that when I saw it reviewed in a magazine. I continued hearing buzz about it, including that it was the most rated book on Goodreads in 2012. Eventually I bought it instore. Had I just seen the article, I would likely have forgotten about it.

    Discovery doesn’t generally come from a single point, but from a lot of inter-related and repeated interactions. It’s the whole ecosystem that matters,

    • I think that’s a great point, Aisha — that in this extremely digital age, where we are all kind of surrounded by streams of information all the time, it may be hard to remember exactly where we first discovered a book. The question, I guess, would be exactly WHICH discovery point ultimately converts us to a sale — but it’s clear from your experience that buying “The Granta Book of the African Short Story” was really the result of discovering that book in a variety of different places.

      This gets at Trudy’s point above, too, where she mentions that discovery and conversion seem mixed up. I think that in some cases, one thing — like a review — can be both a point of discovery (where someone learns about a book for the first time) and a point of conversion (the thing that actually drives someone to buy the book).

      I’ve asked Peter Hildick-Smith, who is the author of this great research, to stop by the comments, and I think he’ll be able to respond to some of these questions.

    • David Thomas

      Ms. Washington & Ms. Kuipers are focused on the right issues and questions. The other missing component is how the rate (that’s what really is being looked at in the study) of discovery to consumption compares to other media. Crucial differences between the media, such as complexity, effort and time to consume may lend a lot to understanding and evaluating the analytics offered here.

    • Thomas Womack

      I also bought ‘The Granta Book of the African Short Story’ a couple of weeks ago; it was on offer from Amazon for £1.19, and at that price it’s worth picking up on general principle. Haven’t read it yet.

      Amazon’s lots-of-cheap-book promotions probably work as well as well-stocked second-hand bookshops (which is high praise indeed) for finding random stuff; there’s obviously been some degree of underlying curation, but it’s not based on books I’ve bought recently so it cuts down the self-reinforcing effect that Amazon recommendations offer.

  22. Trudy Kuipers

    Sorry, I don’t get the logic of your story. Recommendations and reviews help conversion after promotions. Ok I get that, but that is no solution to the discovery problem you refer two. Two things get mixed up here. Interesting research though from Codex.

  23. Thanks for the article. Writing as a reader, I completely agree w your conclusion. Trying to discover new reads on Amazon is a very frustrating experience and even worse on the kindle. Top 100 Best seller/best rated lists, even by category, fall short when there are millions of books. Amazon is failing its original claim of helping find books in the long tail. Worse, self-published, hardly edited Kindle-books rank artificially higher on the lists because they are cheaper and are rated on price performance rather.

    • @Frustrated Reader the “funny” part — not so funny for frustrated readers, of course — is that, according to this research, Amazon (and other online booksellers) are doing a fairly GOOD job in terms of driving discovery of books…at least, compared to all the other options! Note, in the chart above, that 6.6 percent of respondents first learned about the last book they bought from an online bookseller, and that’s far above the other options. Clearly, though, it is not enough.

      My pal Jane Litte over at Dear Author has also pointed out repeatedly that the search on book retailer sites is really bad. (Search at is especially bad; I actually think Amazon’s search is OK, but I’m usually searching by title or author, not theme.)

      • David Thomas

        I concur with the frustration but I’m not sure all readers want to be shown what will give them a nearly identical experience as the last book they’ve read, or the last eight books, or whatever. What I do think is that the metadata could be constructed for any and all searches for the actual experience offered by the book — and when discovery does lead to purchase, the reader finishes the book (we hope) with satisfaction and gains confidence that the producer/dealer can be trusted.

  24. Very frustrating. As an agent this is our toughest hurdle. Helping our authors find their readers. Especially if they are an unknown.
    I hope you are right about the Penguin merger. That would be nice.
    Thank you for the graph. A real heads up.

  25. How about publishers and authors getting behind an agnostic, unconflicted portal, like Wikia (created by Wikipedia co-founders Jimmy Wales and Angela Beesley)?
    Wikia is already getting to be the go-to site for video gamers and comic book readers, so reader-generated book review hosting is right up its alley.

  26. So we need a better Goodreads since the site is pretty basic.
    User reviews are fine but you need expert reviews too.
    Book “trailers” could help where the author and/or critics could talk about the book.
    The ability to browse through the book,read a few pages wouldn’t hurt but it has be be easy to do so,not download a pdf or go through 100 clicks to get there.
    A mini forum for each book (IMDB style).
    Obviously recommendations can always get better.
    Link to interviews with the author,the author’s blog, merchandising (guess few books have that).
    Online stores could even do live Q&A and reading sessions.
    Top sales,top favs,for the day,month,year,all time would help discovery too.
    If i can come up with that in a few minutes,i’m sure the industry can do a lot better.
    Youtube should do something similar for music.