The pandemic has been terrible for many industries, but the book industry has gotten a rare reprieve in an otherwise dismal past decade. Locked in homes and forced to socially distance from others, us humans have more time on our hands and more need to connect to characters than ever before.
That surge in interest in books has also led to a surge in interest from founders to rethink aspects of the reading experience. We profiled Salt Lake City-based BookClub a few weeks ago, which is designed to create author-led book clubs to share the reading experience with others. Other startups like serialized fiction platform Radish have raised massive new rounds as reading hits a new stride.
Before you even get to your book club though, how do you decide what to read and how do you find great books? (Outside, of course, the TechCrunch best books of 2020 as recommended by writers and VCs, which a source who declined to be named since they are writing this story told me is the only ‘best books of the year’ list you need to read).
That’s where BingeBooks comes in. BingeBooks wants to become the Netflix channel surfing platform for book lovers, designed to help you find the next great book based on what you have previously read.
That might seem like Goodreads, the dominant dinosaur in the space, but there is so much more here. BingeBooks was developed by Authors A.I., a service pioneered by novelists and machine learning experts to build an AI-driven editor called Marlowe that can evaluate a draft of a book and provide constructive feedback, such as around pacing, consistency of characters in the plot, and more.
The team at Authors A.I. realized that the same technology that can evaluate, analyze and interpret a book for authors can also help identify patterns between different books and make recommendations to readers as well.
BingeBooks launched just before the Thanksgiving holiday last month, and has titles from the big brand houses like Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan as well as more than 7,000 independent titles.
“BingeBooks is really focused on reader discovery,” Alessandra Torre, president and co-founder of Authors A.I. said. “There really isn’t anything where it’s a safe, happy community where readers and authors can interact and that’s what we’re building.” She would know: Torre is the author of a number of bestsellers and 23 books across her writing career. She said that more than 120 authors were early stakeholders in the BingeBooks product.
Discovery is an issue for readers obviously, but it’s also an issue for authors. Authors, particularly independent authors without prodigious marketing budgets from the major presses, struggle to build a reading audience. Their work may well be the best in the world, but if you write it, they won’t necessarily come. BingeBooks wants to bridge the gap, and help both sides reach a better reading experience.
She’s joined by long-time author JD Lasica and Matthew Jockers, the writer of The Bestseller Code and a professor of English at Washington State University, where he specializes in computational analysis of text.
BingeBooks and Authors A.I. so far has been self-funded, and Lasica said that they are considering how to fundraise in the future now that their products are in the marketplace. Lasica said that crowdfunding might make more sense given the marketplace aspect of the company and their desire to engage more potential users onto the platform. The product is early, and the team hopes to expand its community features in early 2021.
Are we doomed to rewatch bad TikTok videos for the rest of our lives? Or can the kind of algorithms that have helped video services dominate our media culture be applied to reading? That’s what BingeBooks is asking, and hopefully, answering.