Bookish, the struggling social network funded by three of the big five publishers, has been acquired by start-up online retailer, Zola Books. The news comes after lingering questions about the fate of Bookish, a venture which was announced in May 2011, did not go live until early 2013, and went through a string of CEOs as it struggled to gain traction.
Backed by Hachette, Penguin and Simon & Schuster, Bookish was pitched as a Pandora for books, selling titles direct from its Web site. Initially, Penguin CEO David Shanks said Bookish would make book recommendations for users based on their existing preferences and that the more "readers provide, the more customized the recommendations can be."
But the site struggled to get off the ground--it didn't launch until February 2013--as it went through a string of CEO's. Original CEO Paulo Lemgruber, formerly of Comcast and Reed Elsevier, was replaced by one-time Meredith executive, Caroline Marks. Marks's short tenure ended in September 2012, with Ardy Khazaei, coming in to take over.
According to recent numbers given to PW, Bookish has relationships with approximately 50 publishers and over 1.5 million unique titles available on its site. Bookish also has over 1 million author profiles and some 600,000 titles in its recommendation engine.
Joe Regal, founder and CEO of Zola, told PW that both the Bookish name, and the URL, will stay intact in the coming months, and that he hopes to "keep the best parts of Bookish alive in one form or another long after that." In terms of Bookish's staff, Regal said he expects to keep "about half" of the company's existing employees, and confirmed that Khazaei will be leaving. All of Bookish's engineers will stay, Regal noted and will relocate to Zola's offices
Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette, said the founding publishers "never intended to run Bookish forever," and that their objective of starting a first-class recommendation engine has been achieved in the current Bookish version. Despite the problems, and costs, of getting Bookish off the ground, Pietsch said the founding publishers would tackle the venture again. "We saw a need for a great discovery engine and that is what we created. We are happy to see it move to Zola where we expect it will thrive."
With Bookish, Zola will be able to expand on existing elements of its social networking capabilities. Chiefly, the acquisition allows Zola to incorporate Bookish's book recommendation technology into its site. (That technology is a proprietary algorithm pairing users with content.) Regal said this is "the most exciting aspect of the Bookish opportunity." The recommendation engine Bookish has built will be incorporated into Zola's site and this, Regal thinks, "is going to be really significant." While Regal could not share details about how the Bookish algorithm would be added to Zola, he said it will happen "in the months to come" and he could explain more once "we have more insight into their technology."
On the fulfillment side, Baker & Taylor will continue to handle this for Bookish, while Zola will continue to do its own fulfillment.
Speaking to the purchase, Zola founder and CEO Joe Regal said: "Zola and Bookish share a vision of a richer reader experience, connecting readers to their favorite books, authors, tastemakers they trust, and of course to other readers. E-books are becoming personal social networks. Not only can we can read them on phones and devices that we carry with us, but we can also share and comment right inside the reading apps themselves."