Books

Simon & Schuster’s New Online Venture Is Sure to Be Another Expensive Failure

Good luck with this one.

Part of a photo on 250 Words' Facebook page.

Part of a photo on 250 Words’ Facebook page.

It comes as a surprise that Simon & Schuster is launching yet another new books site, called 250 Words. 

The publisher’s first foray into literary websites was Bookish, a book recommendation site started by the Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster and Penguin USA.

Last month, we learned that Bookish had been sold to the e-book retailer Zola. It seems it was unable to compete with huge sites with Amazon, and struggled to draw in readers since its significantly delayed 2013 launch. 

Our sources tell us the publishing groups sold Bookish, which had reportedly received $20 million in funding, at a pretty serious loss.

So the debut of 250 Words seems strange, given that the last attempt at a books site was hardly a best-seller. Mediabistro reported yesterday that the publishing company has just launched 250 Words, a site that aims to become “a hub for intelligent business thinking, with a focus on books.” 

According to a press release quoted by Mediabistro, here’s how Simon & Schuster describes the new site: 

“The centerpiece of 250 Words will be a daily, original essay also available as a daily email subscription.  The essay will be no longer than 250 words on ideas distilled from books. These pieces are not summaries or reviews but intended to excavate useful anecdotes and interesting ideas from books that cover all aspects of the business world, including leadership, management, careers, finance, marketing, investing, innovation, economics, technology and psychology.”

It might be hard for Simon & Schuster to get people excited about the new venture. First of all, it’s not totally clear what the focus of 250 Words actually is. Is it about business, or is it about books? Is it about books on business, or is it about the business of selling books? Or is it trying to be all of those things? Whatever 250 Words is, it sounds pretty niche—and if Bookish, which appealed to a broad range of literary preferences, couldn’t cut it, how does Simon & Schuster expect to be successful marketing exclusively to people interested in business-related books?

Second, 250 words might be an awkward length for a daily essay. It’s too long to be casually consumed on the morning commute (TELL ME EVERYTHING IN 140 CHARACTERS OR FEWER), but it’s too short to have any real value as a longer, more in-depth read. 

Maybe publishing houses should stick to doing what they do best: publishing awesome books—or even mediocre books, because trust us, we’ll gobble those up, too (hey Fifty Shades of Grey). Nobody’s going to blame big publishing houses if they can’t be uber-successful in the digital world—it might just not be in their DNA.

Follow Jordyn Taylor on Twitter or via RSS. jtaylor@observer.com