A Book Algorithm that Works

Many businesses use algorithms to make product recommendations, including book retailers such as Amazon and Chapters. If your customer base is large and mostly online it’s an easy way to generate recommendations for a wide range of customers. But when it comes to books, the system hasn’t always served the customer well. For example, I often go onto the websites of Amazon and Chapters to research books and verify information about titles that I’m not interested in reading but that are relevant to my job. All my searching and browsing leads to suggestions that don’t reflect my taste in books. For regular online shoppers, any gifts they buy, for a father-in-law or five-year-old niece, will get factored in. This is where large operations inevitably miss the mark. (Apparently, Netflix isn’t that much better. It’s more “like a rather dimwitted but well-meaning robot-friend with whom it’s amusing to waste a little time.”) It’s also where independent bookstores with strong customer relationships have the advantage. A person is less likely to think that a regular customer who usually buys sci-fi has changed personal taste if they buy the latest Robert Munsch.

But another increasingly popular way to search for just about anything these days is to do research on social-media platforms. If you’re an avid reader, the social community that’s likely to give the most fruitful advice is Goodreads. In their own words:

“Goodreads is the largest social network for readers in the world. We have more than 4,400,000 members who have added more than 120,000,000 books to their shelves.”

The New York Times reports that Goodreads has recently purchased Discoverreads.com, a company that’s created a book-recommending algorithm. Goodreads will soon introduce their algorithm on their site. This is going to be the recommendation website to beat. Members of Goodreads will now benefit from some pretty accurate recommendations not just from their peers but also from the algorithm. All the more reason for Canadian publishers to take note of Goodreads and their community and make efforts to partner with them. “Goodreads will also use the recommendations to help authors and publishers advertise their books to readers who are most likely to be interested in them.”

At a time when curation is hard to find, when price (and not necessarily quality) is helping books climb the e-book charts, a reader who wants a book that’s guaranteed to be good won’t want to rely on bestseller list based on impulse buys and bargain hunters nor rely on advertising and well-intentioned but inaccurate purchase recommendations. Enter the algorithm recommendation based in an online community.

The people at Goodreads are smart cookies and I can only guess that they’re about to become an even more important resource for readers, authors and publishers alike.