Discoverability: Key to the e-Bookstore

by | Dec 8, 2011

You walk into a bookstore. You don’t know which book you want, you need to look and see what’s available.

Bookstores, obviously, know how book buyers use the store. They arrange the books by categories. Novels here, cookbooks in the back, reference works along one side, biography on its own shelf. That’s how people look at books. You want a book, but since you don’t own it, you have to see what’s available.

Maybe today you want a want a book on medieval European history. You head for the history section and there are two 5-tier bookshelves with history books. This is your searchable universe, so you start looking.

It’s the job of the store buyer to put books on the history shelf that will sell the best for that store’s particular customers, and this varies from store to store. But for the book buyer, it’s pretty cut and dried. Maybe you’ll find a book on medeival European history and maybe you won’t.

The Virtual Bookshelf

Now you’re sitting at your computer. You head over to Amazon or your favorite e-retailer and type in “medieval European history.”

In a moment Amazon returns 9,971 books and you are looking at the first 12. Virtually every book on the first three pages has at least two of the words “medieval,” “Europe” and “history” in the titles.

You are looking at the digital version of the bookstore’s History section. This virtual bookself looks almost infinite, but it really isn’t. Who is going to look through 831 pages of books?

No, the effective size of this bookshelf is about 3 pages, I would guess. That’s about 36 books, and every one is about your subject.

But suppose there was a book that talked about exactly what you were interested in. But that book didn’t have “medieval,” “European” or “history” in its title. And suppose that the publisher had been lazy or ignorant about metadata.

So the publisher never bothered to put these three words in the book description, never posted any reviews. The book’s detail page was mostly blank—you’ve seen them.

What happens? You’ve constructed an e-bookshelf with your search, but a book that should have been on the shelf never made it there, because it wasn’t discoverable.

And that’s why discoverability is key to the e-bookstore. Buyers are constructing bookshelves to browse in constantly, looking to buy books. If you want your book on the shelf, make it discoverable.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

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