Then there’s the parallel world of book-related discussion on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other social-networking sites (not to mention blogs and the digital arms of traditional print media such as newspapers and magazines), most of them competing for hits and advertising dollars.
Joining the literary scrum this month is ZolaBooks.com, a venture whose strategy is to combine all three of the e-book world’s major market functions — retailing, curation and social-networking — in an ambitious bid to become a one-stop destination for book lovers on the Web.
“So far, no one has translated what readers do in the real world — drawing on a wide network of friends, institutions and trusted tastemakers — in an online environment,” says Zola chief executive Joe Regal, a former New York literary agent who co-founded the site a year ago with Michael Strong, a key architect of Sotheby’s online. “Our question was: What do people want to do in terms of seeking out and buying books, and how do we help them do that online?
“We know that people want to network with their friends around books, and so we’re creating the first social network that only does books. We also know that people are influenced by tastemakers who can lead them to the next good book to read. There are a lot of places to get that information, but nobody’s put them all together in one place — a place where, by the way, you can also buy the book.”
Consumers will be guided by Zola’s trademarked “curation engine” that uses rating and purchase-based algorithms along with expert input from book critics, bloggers, authors, publishers and booksellers, whom they can “follow” a la Twitter. “If you read a book that you like and then see that Ron Charles of The Washington Post gave it a good review, then you can follow Ron Charles to see what else he recommends,” Regal says. “If you’re a fan of crime novels, and notice that [the owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York] Otto Penzler blogs about those books, you can follow him. Or you might follow the recommendations of your local indie bookseller, or your local library or NPR.”
Previewable in beta form, Zola plans a soft launch Wednesday, offering e-book exclusives including “Making Mavericks,” a memoir by the Northern California surfing legend Richard “Frosty” Hesson (a movie version starring Gerard Butler opens Oct. 26), and Gordon Dahlquist’s “The Chemickal Marriage,” the conclusion of a fantasy trilogy. Subsequent exclusives will include the first e-book edition of Audrey Niffenegger’s mega-selling “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” with a new chapter by the author, who is also a Zola investor.