Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bookish Launches ... and Shows Growing Pains

Update: I've just realized that my post is misleading because my misadventures with Bookish took place primarily because I focused on choices involving an ebook edition and not a print edition.  My explanation will make more sense if you read the post first, so I'm adding it below as a postscript.

Unless you’re a diehard publishing nerd you’ve likely never heard of Bookish—a joint venture of Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group and Penguin Group (USA) that’s seemingly been gestating forever (but in real life for only a couple of years) and finally launched today yesterday.

As CEO Ardy Khazaei explains, Bookish is an online bookseller “created to serve as a champion of books, writers and, most importantly, readers” and, by seeking “to expand the overall marketplace for books”, declares itself impartial about “whether a book gets into a reader's hands via Bookish's e-commerce partner or another retailer, [because that way] everyone — from the publisher, to the retailer, the author and the reader — wins.

So yes, Bookish sells the books it displays via its “e-commerce partner”, book distributor Baker & Taylor, as well as willingly sending visitors to Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, Books-a-Million, IndieBound, or Kobo if they’d rather complete their purchase elsewhere.  Of course, given the rather lengthy head start these other online vendors have had in selling printed books and ebooks and cultivating a loyal customer base it’s hard to imagine why anyone would begin their book search on Bookish instead.

Nonetheless, curious to know what the site offers and how it operates I set up an account and started browsing.  Not surprisingly, the young site shows growing pains.

My Tale of American Innovation

Clicking on the Subjects menu at the top of the home page, I landed on the Business page (which I once merchandised for Barnes & Noble.com) and scrolling down was intrigued by a collection titled Tales of American Innovation, from Bell Labs to Apple, where I found a book, Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age, that sounded interesting.

But when I checked the price in the upper righthand corner of the product page I was surprised—and a little puzzled—to see that I was looking at an ebook that was “Not in stock. May be available elsewhere.”

I figured the ONLINE STORES button would tell me about places where the book might be “available elsewhere”, so I clicked on it and sure enough …

... there were my choices.

Click on Barnes and Noble, Go to Amazon

Unfortunately, clicking on the Amazon link didn’t take me to Amazon’s page for Dealers of Lightning. Instead, it took me to Amazon’s home page.  Then, oddly, I found that clicking on Barnes and Noble also took me to Amazon’s home page. [2/6/13 update: last night I emailed support@bookish.com to notify them of this problem and, to my amazement, just after midnight received a reply notifying me the snafu "has been solved." But when I refreshed the page this morning and tried clicking on Barnes and Noble I was still sent to Amazon.  Possibly the correction has been queued and will go live with other corrections a bit later.]  Next, I discovered that the Books a million link (attention, Bookish: the bookseller’s name is spelled Books-a-Million) failed to go anywhere except to a cleverly designed 404 page not found display:

It might take you a moment to notice that the book being displayed in Bookish’s 404 page not found graphic shows that page 404 has been torn out and is missing.  Cute, huh?
Inevitably, the iBookstore link takes you to Apple’s web page for downloading the company’s iTunes software, without which one cannot buy an ebook from Apple.  But mercifully, the IndieBound and Kobo links function properly, though they, too, take you to each online store’s home page and not to its Dealers of Lightning product page.

Whoa: Other Formats and Editions, Too?

Curiously, though, I quickly learned my options didn’t end there.  Just below the eBook box was this:

So right off the bat I could see that somewhere else I could buy this ebook for $11.04 instead of Bookish’s $11.99 list price.

And that + sign suggested there were more buying options to explore, so I clicked on it:

Then, of course, I saw the Show all ebooks (7) link and compulsively clicked it.  To my surprise I got a large pop-up:

OK, I thought.  These options, though admittedly not competitive from a price standpoint (five of the seven are $11.99, after all), seem to supply a multitude of vendor choices.  But $11.04 was clearly the best deal, so I clicked on it and landed on a Bookish Dealers of Lightning product page unlike the one I’d first visited.  Here’s how its price box read:

This was starting to get a little weird.  Remember that when I initially landed on the Dealers of Lightning product page Bookish had informed me that the ebook was “Not in Stock.”  But that it “May be available elsewhere.”  Was this elsewhere?

Not in Stock Yet Somehow Ready to Buy Now

Not noticing that the lower price and BUY NOW button weren’t the only thing different about this Dealers of Lightning price box—I failed to read that I was now being exhorted to “Read with the Bookish Reader app on Android, iPad & iPhone coming soon”—I clicked the BUY NOW button to see what would happen next.

Quickly I was being asked to enter my billing address and payment information, which suggested to me that, contrary to Bookish’s initial claim that this ebook wasn’t in stock, I was being asked to pay for something Bookish had every intention of delivering as soon as I entered a valid MasterCard, American Express, Discover, or Visa card number.  Though I didn’t follow through and buy the book, I’m guessing that had I done so I’d have received an ePub file I could have read via the popular Calibre PC reader or sideloaded onto any ereader, such as those from Nook or Kobo, that supports the ePub format.

Finally, I should note that despite Bookish’s nonpartisan approach to bookselling—and its willingness to send me to my preferred vendor—its price lists, I suppose inevitably, aren’t up to the minute.  When I went to Amazon and searched on Dealers of Lightning I discovered that the Kindle edition was selling for less than the lowest price Bookish had already shown me:

Here’s hoping Bookish can solve some of these vexing problems—especially the one about sending visitors directly to another online vendor’s product page instead of to its (far less convenient) home page.

2/6/13 Update: Bookish does send visitors directly to the product page on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, IndieBound, and Kobo if their Bookish jump off page is for the print edition of a book and not for the ebook edition.  The reason is simple: for ebooks Bookish supports (and is writing Android, iPhone, and iPad ereader apps that can display) only ePub and PDF document file formats and not Amazon's MOBI format for the Kindle.  So when it supplies Amazon as a purchase option for an ebook it faces a dilemma: it doesn't want to send Bookish users directly to Amazon's corresponding Kindle page because the ebook they purchase won't be readable on the Bookish ereader app.  So I'm guessing Bookish has decided the default in these cases is to send visitors to the online vendor's home page.  If so, it's still an odd choice since, as I mentioned earlier, Barnes and Noble and Kobo (as well as the iBookstore and, I suspect, Books-a-Million and IndieBound) all support the ePub file format for their homegrown ereaders.

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