By Shubhangi Shah
Amazon, the trillion-dollar multinational conglomerate that now deals with e-commerce, cloud computing, streaming services and artificial intelligence, started in 1994 as an online marketplace for books. Although Jeff Bezos wasn’t the first to set up a books market online, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that he enabled buying books at the fingertips of any individual in any part of the world. Three decades since, technology has come to define, to a huge extent, how books are published, marketed, bought, and even read. Although we might have solved these aspects, discovering new books still remain a challenge.
Best-sellers are everywhere, and so are books by celebrities. However, exploring titles by new and lesser-known authors can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. It seems there is no online experience that can replace a library or a bookstore where one can turn the pages of a title that appears interesting to zero down on the one that appeals. Now don’t get it wrong, there is a tonne of recommendations and reviews available on social media and newspapers, but the volume can be overwhelming. If only there was something to filter the noise and help us discover books we might like.
Just like there is a gap, there are companies striving to fill it. The latest is Tertulia, which literally refers to a social gathering with literary or artistic overtones, especially in Iberia or Latin America.
Drawing from its meaning, the company describes the app as: “inspired by the informal salons (‘tertulias’) of Spanish cafes and bars, Tertulia is a new way to discover books through all the lively and enriching conversations they inspire”. “Tertulia serves up book recommendations and book talk from across social media, podcasts, and the web, all in one app,” it says on its website. In simpler words, the app uses tech to aggregate book recommendations and discussion across platforms, such as social media, podcasts, news articles, etc, to come up with recommendations personalised as per a user’s liking. Not just that, users can also order books on the app. Presently, paperbacks and hardcovers are available, and the company plans to sell e-books and audiobooks in the coming months, the New York Times reported. The app has been recently launched and is available on the Apple app store in the United States. The services are yet to be made available in India.
Tertulia is the latest but not the only book discovery platform available. Bookfinity is a website that comes up with book recommendations based on a questionnaire you fill. Starting with a simple name and gender, it straight up asks you to ‘judge a book by its cover’. No, not the idiomatic way but by choosing among the book covers that appear on screen, which you find the most interesting. You go on answering some questions about yourself for the site to come up with recommendations.
Then there is the Cooper app, the social media platform for book lovers, whose beta version was recently released on iOS in the United States. The app brings readers and authors on the same platform striving for a direct interaction between the two. Evidently, it can aid new and lesser-known authors to find an audience and readers to discover new and little-known books.
These are the new ones, but Goodreads remains the oldest in the category. Founded in 2006 and bought by Amazon in 2013, it hosts a virtual library allowing you to discover your next read. You can also post reviews and recommend books to friends.
Another application is Litsy, which seems to be a cross between Goodreads and Instagram. On it, you can share what you think, like, or dislike about a book. A book-lovers community of sorts, it can help your friends to discover their next read given the views are from a credible source.
All these ideas seem great. However, the question still persists if apps are the way to solve the online book discovery problem. Not that there is a lack of information online, but it still remains short of the utility of sieving through books at a bookstore. Another issue here is the mental rush. While checking through books at a bookstore or a library can be a calming experience helping you slow down, the same might not apply to an online experience, which bombards you with a tonne of information at once, overwhelming you. Wouldn’t an app that filters all that and gets to the point be great? Or, we can try live in the physical world more. Better? Maybe.