Stephen Yang/ Bloomberg News There’s nothing like a good bookstore. Curling up in the stacks, a pile of potential purchases surrounding you, flipping through a few pages here, a few pages there, following your interests wherever they may go. How relaxing, how enjoyable, how…1997.
Last year, e-book sales outpaced hardcovers for the first time — a development that, not surprisingly, has paralleled the decline of brick-and-mortar booksellers. But, while the e-book revolution (and, to a greater extent, the Amazon revolution) has increased the convenience and cut the costs of book buying, it has also erased some of the pleasures that once accompanied bookstore shopping. Gone are the surprises — the sudden discovery of a great new author or the wondrous delight of a deeply discounted book that you’ve always wanted.
Recreating the Bookstore…Online
A few companies have tried to imitate the joy of bookstore discovery. The goal — helping readers to find new authors, as well as discount books — is ultimately helpful to publishers as well as readers. After all, wondrous discoveries lead to wondrous sales. Even if those books are discounted, there still is a lot of money to be made, especially on e-books, which are much cheaper to produce and distribute than traditional “dead tree” hard copies of books.
For Kindle users — including me — Amazon’s deals have long been the standard for the e-bookstore experience. Between their monthly specials, which spotlight 100 deeply discounted books, and their daily deals, which focus on four specials every day, a Kindle user can expect a consistent trickle of book bargains.
Other content companies, like Apple and Barnes and Noble offer similar services.
But for a real book junkie — again, like me — an online bookseller that only spotlights a couple hundred discounted books per month isn’t nearly enough. Put in terms of the traditional bookstore experience, this would be roughly comparable to going to the “cheap deals” section of a bookstore, only to find that it consists of one shelf that is sparsely filled with bad mystery novels and self-help books.
Josh Schanker, a Boston-based digital entrepreneur, thinks that he might have the solution. Like the DailyDeal, his company, BookBub, sends out a free daily e-mail that highlights deeply discounted books. However, unlike Amazon’s service, BookBub offers bargains for users across all major reader platforms, including the iPad, the Kindle, the Sony reader and the Nook. More importantly, though, it allows users to select books across 17 different genres — far more than the four offerings that come in each Daily Deal e-mail.
Finding books to promote is easy: publishers and independent writers pay BookBub to spotlight their publications. In fact, the difficult part is sorting through the requests: Schanker estimates that BookBub receives at least 50 submissions per day. “We have automatic filters that sort through the books based on price,” he explains. “We only offer books that are discounted by 50 percent or more. Many of our books are free.”
Even after sorting, there are still a lot of offers out there. BookBub’s three-person editorial team researches the remaining books, reading reviews and scanning through the books themselves to get a feel for them.
For the publishers, there are several reasons for offering deep discounts. “A lot of publishers are hoping to get readers hooked on a series,” Schanker explains. “The first one is free, but readers have to pay for later books.” Similarly, by deeply discounting books, publishers can draw attention to lesser-known authors. “There are a lot of great authors who haven’t built an audience yet,” Schanker notes. “If publishers can build interest, they can sell the authors’ other works.”
Still other books are bestsellers that publishers temporarily discount in an attempt to drum up fresh interest in an author. Recently, for example, BookBub featured free books by Dan Brown and Jodi Picoult, both of whom have new novels coming out in 2013. “By discounting a backlist book, publishers can bring an author front and center,” Schanker notes.
BookBub has found an appreciative audience: the company hit a million subscribers last month, and Schanker expects to see a lot more growth. “The larger we are, the more publishers want to work with us,” he explains. And, given that there are few guides to the thousands of discounted ebooks on the market, it isn’t hard to see why a million (and counting) readers are eager to work with BookBub.