Penguin Random House is aiming to wrest back power back from the “robotic”, algorithm-driven book recommendation landscape while supporting independent publishers with the launch of recommendation platform My Independent Bookshop.
The online store, which launches today (8 May) following a month-long private beta, was devised by Collective London to “put the human touch” back into the recommendation of books, which has become dominated by the likes of Amazon-style algorithms - all driven by users' purchase history and web-browsing habits.
People will be encouraged to set up profiles for free on the site, which they can then populate with their favourite 12 books from any publisher. They have the option to write a review of each book and share them across social media, with those who set up stores to receive exclusive benefits including signed copies of books, and early access to new scripts.
The platform has the support of major authors including Sir Terry Pratchett and Simon Mayo, who are among those to have already set up profiles.
Readers can purchase either physical or digital copies of the books via the site, which plugs into independent bookshop network Hive, linking 350 stores with the platform. For every purchase of a physical book, Hive will take a five per cent cut, and for digital books eight per cent, with the remainder going to the book store itself.
Dan Franklin, digital publisher at Penguin Random House UK, told The Drum that the move is aimed at cutting through the “noise” in what has become a content-cluttered online landscape. “The barriers to entry for publishing have been totally smashed. With the number of self-publishing services offered now – there is a hell of a lot of noise.
“As a publisher it’s really important that we are in direct contact with readers digitally. But with all these new platforms online, all the recommendations for people’s reading are being driven by data-driven algorithms. Social media allows for an element of peer-to-peer recommendation but we felt there was space for this kind of community platform where people can discuss, share and recommend books,” he said.
Franklin said the aim is not to monetise the platform via advertising, although he added that he would not rule it out from future plans.
“The aim is not so much to be an e-commerce platform but to become a community – a recommendations hub. We are really trying to play totally in a different field to Amazon.”
Instead, it will use the registration data garnered from sign-ups to help shape and inform its future marketing and communications with readers to provide a more personalised dialogue with them.
It will launch social media and digital marketing campaigns to boost awareness of the launch.
"We are trying to find ways to put the humanity back into this robotic, automated recommendations landscape," added Franklin, who said that it is eyeing the opportunities around integrating a peer-based affiliate model, meaning individuals who recommend books would receive a cut from any subsequent purchase.
Collective London CEO Nick Constantinou said it is vital that the human element of book recommendations is re-established. "As book stores disappear from the high street it’s becoming harder to have that serendipitous behaviour of discorvering new books in a book store.
"Usually you would go into a book store and perhaps come out with four or five books, for example, but with the arrival of software algorithms and the likes of Amazon being so big now they are increasingly dictating book recommendations. That human personal side of discovering new books is being lost.
"If you speak to any publisher it's clear a lot of the power is now with Amazon – and it takes a cut of the books because it has such strong distribution and penetration. So the balance of power in that industry has massively gone to the online retailers. This is about trying to get a bit of that power back to the publishers – over what is sold and how – otherwise they just become lap dogs to the big online retailers, and have no control over distribution, with Amazon dictating what cut they get.
"My Independent Bookshop is all about protecting independent book stores and championing human discoverability," he added.
Around 2,000 people registered for stores during the beta period.