now you can judge a virtual book by its cover too 07.10.2008, 10:36 AM
posted by sebastian mary
Zoomii, a new virtual bookstore that uses Amazon's prices and fulfilment, provides a nifty 'browse' interface that lets the viewer zoom in and out of 21,000 'books' - read cover thumbnails - arranged on 'shelves' according to category.
It's the most bookshop-like experience I've encountered online. Within seconds I'd been reminded of several books I've been meaning to read. And arguably the proximity of a diverse selection of titles could help strikes a blow for browsing and against the homophily that characterizes much Web browsing.
It's debatable, though, whether this kind of heavily-mediated pseudo-serendipity, while a pleasant change from the messy Amazon experience, isn't one metaphor too far. After all, how 'serendipitous' are the book thumbnails I find on its digitally-rendered 'shelves'?
What concerns me is that, while this site provides something of the feel of browsing a bookstore, this is not only a superficial impression but reproduces the worst of the industrialized mainstream bookstores. The buying practices necessitated in order to keep a large bookstore financially viable these days have skewed the kinds of books that are deemed saleable profoundly; the redemptive promise of the Web was that the magical long tail might create markets for even those niche publications that have been edged out of mainstream publishing and book sales.
And yet (as I understand it - corrections welcome) for a book to be sold in more than one place online it must be equipped with a set of tags (ISBN, summary, thumbnail image etc) according to a metadata standard. Without these, the multiplicity of bookselling affiliate schemes, APIs and so on will not be able to carry the title, and the book will not sell. And this additional informational labor is beyond the technical and time resources of many small publishers. So while a bookstore (in its ideal, pre-Scott Pack form at least) might be imagined to carry a genuinely serendipitous mix of local publications, the manager's choices, remainders, bestsellers and second-hand titles, this slick performance of serendipity relies on several intricate but invisible additional layers of technologization. Thus, while it gives the feeling of serendipity, the data architectures required to sustain the 'bookstore' metaphor push the available selection ever more towards a literary monoculture.
In an age where more books than ever are being published, perhaps this doesn't matter. But despite the attractiveness of Zoomii as a piece of data visualization, it seems to me to point towards a worst-case combination of manual, recommendation-free browsing and industrialized depletion of diversity.
Posted by sebastian mary on July 10, 2008 10:36 AM
lilo merlin on July 11, 2008 7:19 AM:
Hi there, I have a different view:
First the conspiracy theory:-) If, as I recently found out, Amazon has launched Kijiji, maybee it stands behind Zoomii too?
Second, more important and related: I see a different future for this tool, I see this version merely as a start: One day it will show you all books fitting exactly to your interests - New releases, classics...you will be able to even design your shop the way you want it.. Based on all your data. Maybe not only the one for/from Amazon. For me it is absolutely clear like a fountainhead that this will happen - I just can't estimate when exactly. I see this tool move from 2-d into virtual reality and I see myself possibly getting addicted to staying/shopping in a huge self-designed silent personalized Library :-) But even more, you will be able to visit shops by other users, and very well-sorted shops, or very similar......There will be "official" shops, where you can meet many others...and tiny little shops around the corner, most likely visited over a facebook profile ;-)
Those who create the shops tha sell most will get rewards.....
(We'll have to think of where we want to got, where it will lead to is obvious.)
Monica McCormick on July 30, 2008 7:15 PM:
I think you may be overstating this as a problem. It's true that to sell books effectively online, publishers need to provide ONIX or other standard metadata. However, to sell books effectively to bookstores, particularly those lovely idiosyncratic ones, publishers print catalogs (two or three a year) and ideally have their titles presented in person by sales representatives. Getting books into the big chain stores requires presenting one's list in ways that the chain dictates (only one subject per title, for example.) Scholarly publishers also need to rent booths at academic meetings, and print and mail subject catalogs to members of scholarly societies. This is all very top-down, with publishers working hard to reach an audience that they try to identify in advance. Even marketing via email requires identifying individual customers.
This all still happens, of course, even as publishers move some elements of marketing online. (Sales reps are among the most sophisticated and worldly people in the book business, and the decline of independent bookstores suggests to me that their business is not thriving.) For truly small publishers this is all a disproportionate expense.
My (too-obvious?) point is that promoting books costs money. I suspect that for truly small publishers it's far cheaper to create an online presence, including metadata for each book, and reach a truly widespread audience than to seek buyers via direct mail or in stores. The niche title is far more easily found online (and may only be printed when ordered), though it requires metadata to make it so.
This may not make Zoomii any more palatable, but I think the "redemptive promise of the web" can be possible for very small publishers more easily now than when all markets were brick and mortar.
Florian Brody on August 16, 2008 3:58 PM:
Zoomii is neither the ultimate solution to browse or buy books online nor a perfect replacement for the smell of an old fashioned bookstore complete with grumpy owner who reluctantly provides any practical reference while happily diving deeply into some obscure topic in a conversation with a customer.
With the top ranked 25.000 books from Amazon on sale, Zoomii is a mid-sized average bookstore. With the Zoomii engine available, any bookstore can create their own online presence., in fact anyone can fill the selves of their own dream bookstore, complete with ladders to climb up and down the shelves and a remainders bin.
Making a book "sellable" today (online or off line) requires a set of meta data that is not harder to come by than an LOC record 50 years ago. It may actually be easier and here is a brief how-to to get a book into Amazon and as a next step into your own bookstore.
I look forward to add my bookstore to my Blog with a Zoomin engine inside.