Online retailer Zola Books is partnering with BiblioCommons, a vendor of digital services to libraries, to offer Zola’s Bookish recommendation engine to 67 libraries in the BiblioCommons network in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Since its acquisition of Bookish, a book recommendation/retailer originally founded by three of the Big Five publishers, earlier this year, Zola has worked to build a consumer retailing outlet while also developing a platform of B2B services and tools.
Since the purchase at the start of 2014, Zola Books has incorporated the Bookish technology into its retail site and launched the technology on the New York Public Library online catalog pages in March. Bookish Recommends provides an API—APIs allow easy digital access to selected content and partners—to participating libraries that can be integrated into their online platforms. The Bookish Recommends algorithm provides patrons with book recommendations based on more than 1.7 billion unique identifiers attached to the titles in a database of more than 500,000 books. On the NYPL catalog site, patrons searching for a title will also see a “Bookish Recommends” list of selections with book covers right next to their original search.
Patrick Kennedy, president of BibilioCommons, said “we partnered with Zola because libraries have an overwhelming interest in providing good book recommendations. The Bookish Recommends engine offers an excellent range of titles and an API that made integration easy.” Kennedy said now its “library clients can tell us to turn on the Bookish Recommends feature and start using it alongside other catalog enhancements.”
Zola Books CMO Lynda Radosovich said the BiblioCommons librairies will roll out the recommendation technology “on an ongoing basis,” based on BiblioCommons’ schedule throughout the rest of the year. Libraries in Edmonton and Ottawa (serving a population of 1.5 million) are also online and Seattle and Kings County (a population of 3.6 million) are the next library systems slated to go live. She said, “Zola's mission is to provide the technology tools for the ultimate reading experience. In order to provide a truly innovative experience, Zola has had to build from scratch new foundations for book discover and reading.”
Zola Books CEO and founder Joe Regal, agreed and told PW the focus on B2B services, “is not a pivot,” emphasizing that he is a former agent and launched Zola Books, “because of the need for diversity in the book market and to offer tools for everyone in the book industry. We want Zola to be a destination for recommendations and for companies that want open technology services.”
On the consumer side, Regal said the Zola Books e-commerce site offers 163,000 titles for sale, with titles from four of the Big Five publishers available. The site is currently in talks with Penguin Random House to add its titles to the database. Book sales through Zolabooks.com “are in the thousands of units per month.” Consumer sales also provide critical data on consumer behavior for the recommendation engine. On the B2B side, Bookish Recommends is licensed to business partners through paid subscriptions.
Although Zola Books acquired Bookish earlier this year and integrated the recommendation technology into the retail site, Bookish Recommends continues as a standalone site that also sells books (Bookish fulfillment is by Baker & Taylor). Regal said, “we’ve kept Bookish as is to see how it works,” but added that the site will become more of an “editorially-driven site, a consumer face.” He also said the “look and feel” of Bookish Recommends will change “in the next month or two," although he added that “right now,” he did not want to say whether the site will continue to sell books.
After years of building Zola Books, Regal said they are getting closer to becoming a book publishing destination site. “We know people are waiting to see what we have to offer.”