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Bookish, the Publishing Industry’s Great Digital Hope, Has Finally Launched

This took a year and a half?
Photo: Screencap

Well one sure hopes so. (photo: screencap)

At long last, the publishing industry’s much-delayed book discovery platform has finally arrived. Bookish, a collaboration between Simon & Schuster, Hachette and Penguin, went live yesterday.

And just what has a year and a half of work produced? The home page spotlights bestsellers and new releases, alongside exclusive content like an essay from Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert tut-tutting Philip Roth. There’s the option of receiving updates via newsletter. Browsers can also purchase, let’s say, Michael Bolton’s new memoir directly through the site.

It’s pretty clear the point of all this hullabaloo is to wrest some control away from Amazon. In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, CEO Ardy Khazaei explained:

“Ultimately, we seek to expand the overall marketplace for books, and whether a book gets into a reader’s hands via Bookish’s e-commerce partner or another retailer, everyone — from the publisher, to the retailer, the author and the reader — wins.”

With Borders dead and buried and Barnes and Noble looking shaky, publishers probably should have started trying to “expand the overall marketplace” a little bit sooner. Amazon now owns a disproportionate share of the customer relationships in the business, from email addresses to purchase histories to sheer mindshare. Then there’s the practical problem of getting your books spotted, when book reviews are dying, selling on Amazon means competing with millions of other titles and Barnes and Noble’s front tables are given over to the Nook.

It’s a mystery, though, just what took so damn long. The Journal blames both anti-trust concerns and the problem of amassing all the relevant data. But this isn’t exactly the Pandora of books, so the last couple of years weren’t spent on some next-level algorithmic magic.

The final product, in fact, looks a lot like any number of outlets that are already out there, from Good Reads to Shelf Awareness. And why should readers looking for something new trust a site built by publishers with the explicit purpose of pushing their books? There’s not much incentive to screen out the clunkers, which even the best publisher occasionally has.

Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and at least it’s a start.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com