Three months after its premiere at BEA, Zola Books is ready to go live. On September 20, the social, retail, and recommendation Web site will open to the public. To coincide with the launch, Joe Regal, founder and CEO, gave a walkthrough of the site as part of O'Reilly's Tools of Change webcast series.
Zola Books will launch with its social component, with retail and recommendation components to launch soon. Beginning September 20, publishers, readers, and authors can register on Zola Books and begin connecting with one another. Publishers can begin setting up "storefronts"--pages that Regal says are meant to solve discoverability problems by allowing publishers to be "reader-facing brands." The launch also allows publishers to interact with followers and curate their titles for discoverability, and, once Zola Books begins its retail aspect in mid October, they'll be able to access weekly sales numbers, number of books viewed, and books wishlisted.
When the retail and recommendation aspects kick in, Regal's goal of "tackling everything in one place" when it comes to books will come full circle. Authors will gain insight into who is reading their book and where (including heat maps), readers will be able to see reviews of books not only from other users but from bloggers and publications like the New York Times and Time (Regal said "tens of thousands" of reviews are already loaded in, with "hundreds of thousands" to come eventually--making Zola Books "like a Metacritic for books"). Also for authors, Zola Books offers the potential for an exclusive sales platform for e-books (Audrey Niffenegger will release the e-book for The Time Traveler's Wife through Zola Books on October 10). For publishers, once the retail aspect happens in October, they'll be able to ask customers to opt-in for direct e-mail lists, through which they can offer deals and incentives for subscribing like coupons. Also, in conjunction with the retail aspect, Zola Books's HTML5 reader app will launch so e-books purchased on the Web site can be read on any device.
One of the key aspects of Zola Books that combines retail and recommendation is how brands, businesses, and other Web sites can act as "curators." Building a page similar to a publisher's storefront, a bookstore like the Strand, or a Web site like The Millions or NPR Books can curate their recommendations and receive an affiliate fee if the books are purchased through Zola Books. Bookstores, which Regal said are viewed as partners rather than affiliates, get 60% of the sale. Through Zola Books's ecosystem, Regal hopes, curators can create an identity and connect with followers.
Regal has ambitious plans going forward. Zola Books is in talks with publishers and although those discussions were affected by the DoJ proceedings, Regal doesn't anticipate any major problems in getting them on board. At launch, the focus is on bigger publishers, but Regal stated "we want to get publishers big and small" and include self-publishing, as well. The staff has grown from two people to 35 in the past year, and Regal hopes to be in other English-speaking foreign markets by the first quarter of 2013.