Publishers Launch Online Site, Bookish

Tuesday, 5 Feb 2013 | 8:24 AM ET

The latest website for discovering, discussing and buying books is sponsored by some of the industry's leading publishers.

Simon & Schuster, Hachette Book Group, and Penguin Group (USA) on Tuesday are launching Bookish, billed as "a one-stop, comprehensive online destination designed to connect readers with books and authors." The idea is for publishers, who individually have struggled for recognition among the general public, to combine resources and increase their Web presence.

Bookish offers interviews, excerpts, reviews, and recommendations and links to retailers, from Amazon.com to local sellers (publishers have no plans to use Bookish to sell works directly from their own sites). The editorial team will operate independently, but publishers will have control over how books are promoted.

"Publishers create a lot of marketing materials for online retailers and those retailers use those materials based on their own desires. You can make an author video and they won't necessarily put it on their site," says Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy.

"Bookish was created to serve as a champion of books, writers and, most importantly, readers," Bookish CEO Ardy Khazaei said in a statement. "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."

Virtually all of the major publishers are making their books available, and Bookish has a cross-promotional deal with USA Today. (CNBC.com has a content-sharing arrangement with USA Today.)

Bookish was first announced in 2011, but technical issues, especially the compiling of data, delayed the site, according to Reidy and Hachette CEO David Young. Publishers also had to be especially careful about how they worked together. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Apple and five publishers — including the three who founded Bookish — for alleged price fixing of e-books.

"We received clearance for Bookish, but every time any of us talk about something we have to conform to the DOJ rules," Young says. "We aren't behaving any differently than we were before, we just have to make sure that formal procedures are followed, like writing up a log after any meeting."

During a recent interview, Khazaei said that part of the "uniqueness" of Bookish was the content provided exclusively by publishers. The Onion, for instance, reviews Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series and warns that "it leaves readers longing to see even one of the central characters transform into a little bat and then fly out a window." An essay by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat Pray Love," teases Philip Roth for allegedly discouraging a young author by calling the writing process "torture."

"You don't have to wear a nametag — and, unless you are exceptionally clumsy — you rarely run the risk of cutting off your hand in the machinery," Gilbert counters. "Writing, I tell you, has everything to recommend it over real work."

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