For book industry veteran Kristen McLean, the idea for her new business began, naturally, with a book. “I was under contract to write a book about the decision-making chain in the publishing industry, what I call the passion chain—the number of critical decisions that have to line up exactly right for a book to make it successfully from the author to the reader,” she tells PW. “Three chapters in, I found that I couldn’t write the book, at least not the book the publisher wanted. Instead, I built a company.” On February 15, McLean will make the first public presentation of that company—Bookigee—at the Tools of Change Publishing Startup Showcase, in New York City.
Billed as an “innovative, visualizing discovery engine,” Bookigee, McLean says, has set its sights on addressing a core issue for books and content in the digital age: discoverability. “Discoverability is a word I hear over and over again,” McLean said. “There is just an incredible amount of amazing content out there that people are not finding, because it is disaggregated, disorganized, and the dominant online platforms just aren’t pulling it all together, because they are, generally speaking, retailing. My interest is more in serving the user, rather than selling the user.” Unlike the strictly algorithmic recommendation engines that are widely in use, Bookigee is desgined to surface the hidden gems in a deeper pool of great books, rather than just bestsellers or the more popular, predictable choices.
More details will be revealed during her ToC presentation, but McLean sketched a few broad strokes for PW. Simply put, Bookigee aims to place “the idea” at the center of the user’s discovery process, rather than “the container,” a shift she believes could “revolutionize the way consumers explore content.” There will be no ads, and Bookigee will be backed by “a robust editorial team” that will blend algorithmic search results with human input. It will also take an “industry-neutral” approach that will not only enable discovery of great books, she said, but of all kinds of content, making "every player in the entertainment industry” a potential partner.
For users, the product will be visually oriented, and designed for touch screens, and will also work with social networking sites, including Facebook and possibly Goodreads, creating something of a “broadcast platform.” There is even a subscription plan in the works for "brand builders" (including publishers and bookstores), that would include a suite of analytics. After an initial period of conception and design, McLean says Bookigee is now about three months into development, and a beta version ready to roll out by this fall.
Created with input from a “team of innovators” in fields ranging from specialty design to retail, editorial, Silicon Valley tech, engineering, bookselling and book marketing, Bookigee has an admittedly ambitious goal—in essence, to begin reshaping a consumer process that has become entrenched over decades, but also somewhat inefficient. “It’s kind of a screwy model,” McLean says of the current system of content discovery and delivery, noting Bookigee’s fresh approach. “If we could design a new system from scratch,” she says, “with authors on one end, and readers on the other, what would that system look like?”