Three major publishers are backing a new online effort aimed at engaging and informing readers about authors and books. With the financial backing of Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Group, Bookish is being headed by Paulo Lemgruber who previously ran the digital businesses at Comcast and Reed Elsevier and who told PW he was recruited about a year ago to start Bookish. Other members of the Bookish team include Charlie Rogers, who previously worked at The Paris Review, NBC Universal and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and is editor-in-chief.

Lemgruber said the main goal of Bookish is to make recommendations about books that will appeal to a reader's particular taste. He compared the site to things like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes that mix information about movies with reviews and news. Editorial will include breaking news, author interviews, excerpts, reviews and other marketing materials that publishers feel will help readers pick a book, Lemgruber said. Although backed by Penguin, S&S and Hachette, Lemgruber stressed that Bookish will be editorially independent, covering books from all publishers (excluding vanity presses).

Penguin Group USA CEO David Shanks compared Bookish to Pandora and said unlike other sites that are driven by purchases, Bookish will make recommendations based on the information provided by consumers. "The more information readers provide the more customized the recommendations can be," Shanks said, noting that Bookish is aimed at helping readers identify books they may like from the tens of thousands published annually. He said the three publishers came together after it became clear that their individual sites would never drive enough traffic to reach a critical mass of book buyers. As print media devotes less space to book coverage, the publishers felt they needed a way to raise the profile of their content, Shanks said.

Bookish will sell books in print and digital formats directly from the site and will stock complete frontlist and backlist titles from all publishers. Lemgruber said he is in discussions now with a third party to power the e-commerce option. Bookish, which plans to launch before Labor Day, also hopes to find ways to work with retailers to find ways to work together by providing links to different retailers. Lemgruber has already met with the ABA and future talks are planned. ABA CEO Oren Teicher said Bookish raises both opportunities and concerns. “We are very interested in learning more to help determine if [Bookish] can be structured in a way to support independent bookstores,” Teicher said. “We are always interested in building stronger partnerships with our publishing colleagues, and to the degree that Bookish complements what indie stores do, we would welcome such an opportunity. To the degree that it competes with what indie stores do, we are troubled.”

Bookish will be ad supported and AOL Huffington Post Media Group will sell ads as well as help promote the site through links on its channels. Lemgruber said while he expects some ads from publishers, he believes advertising can be broad and appeal to companies looking to reach a well educated, affluent audience. Lemgruber also envisions creating book channels such as content built around travel that could appeal to certain advertisers. But the immediate goal, Lemgruber said, is to build a rich site that will attract as big an audience as possible of people looking for more information about books. “Bookish is being built as a platform for discovery.”