In an old post on my personal website, I had analyzed the book-discovery startup landscape, classifying approaches to solving book discovery into five broad buckets.
A key finding that emerged was that most ventures that emerged to attack book discovery chose one of the first three models. These three approaches had one point in common – code that could scale. They were all scalable models as opposed to expert-led approaches, which involve considerable human effort in curation.
The focus on scalable approaches however obscured one essential truth – the consumer is not worried about scale. She is only interested in a solution to her problem. To the extent that scale enables a solution to her problem – better choice resulting from more alternatives – she is happy to use a scalable approach. However if the best solution to her problem involves a non-scalable approach then she will prefer that.
Then why have most discovery startups looked at scalable approaches? One reason is perhaps venture funding, who prefer to back startups that can scale. This forces startups to exclude non-scalable approaches such as expert-led approaches, and exclusively focus on tech-led approaches.
However if there is any one truism about book discovery, it is that there is no one definitive solution. Rather we need a plurality of approaches to attack discovery from various ends. Goodreads puts it well – “One of the major takeaways of our research is that book discovery happens in a multitude of ways, and there is no single magic bullet that will work for every book.”
Pinax is my attempt at approaching book discovery from a non-tech perspective, one that should throw up interesting questions around curation and discovery. It targets expert-led book discovery by manually aggregating expert recommendations into a directory. These recommendations are sourced from anywhere I find them – books, twitter feeds, other websites, magazines, interviews etc – to create a bookshelf of favourites for each expert. Think of Pinax as a curated Goodreads, where only some (expert) people can create shelves.
The need to manually curate Pinax makes it inherently non-scalable. But if it can result in interesting recommendations of books that ‘people didn’t think they wanted to read’, which is the fundamental challenge in book discovery, then it would be serving its purpose, scale or no scale.