Yesterday, I wrote about Book Marks, which is a book review aggregator website, an offshoot of content aggregator, Lit Hub. That got me to thinking. Religious publishing, and particularly Christian book publishing, is the second biggest category of books, after fiction, accounting in recent years for 16 percent of book sales. Yet the Religion category on Book Marks currently features just six books. I wondered whether a book review aggregator dedicated to this market segment focused on collecting quality reviews of new religious publications by categories could be a useful resource for authors, publishers, reviewers, booksellers, and end users in this segment of the book publishing world, for all the same reasons Book Marks is an asset to the wider publishing world.
It strikes me that one of the basic questions that needs to be answered for a project like this is, can a viable business model be established for a religious book reviews aggregator site? This article on Quora suggests costs and revenue sources for such a site and what it takes to create one.
Some questions that occur to me as I think further about this:
- Audience: Is there an audience for such a site? How do people looking for religious books find out about new publications? Would a review aggregator become a popular “go to” in searching for religious reading? Would you focus on a particular religion or go for a multi-faith audience?
- Categories: At least in Christian publishing, Christian fiction is most popular. What categories beyond this would be featured on an aggregator site. Would more academic titles be listed as well as more popular?
- Review sources: Book Marks works with syndicated reviews from professional reviewers. Some books on a religious site would receive reviews from these reviewers but for many newly published books, other reviewers would need to be found. What publications would be used, and what standards would be used for acceptable reviews.
- Curation: People would need to identify books from a number of publishers, coming from a variety of perspectives, and then find quality reviews of these publications. Breadth of knowledge and a significant work ethic would be crucial.
- Marketing: This includes how you drive traffic to the site as well as developing revenue streams. How would you work with authors, publishers, booksellers, and end users. Are there ways to work with religious bodies, and not just serve individual users?
- Promotion of a reading culture: It would seem like an important long term aim is the cultivation of a reading, literate, religious culture. This is plainly valued more by some than others. It is fascinating to me that reading often seems more highly prized among executives like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, and some of our presidents, like Teddy Roosevelt, Barack Obama, and even George W. Bush, than in religious circles. Could a site, well-constructed and well-utilized, help with this?
The demise of Books and Culture magazine was a great loss, yet it occurs to me that there are a number, both of print publications, and respected online reviewers, whose content could be aggregated to provide a far broader and richer resource. If a similar model was used of helping people connect with brick and mortar booksellers that Book Marks uses, it could aid religious book sellers who are in the fight of their lives to stay viable. It could help those who curate religious libraries, booktables or even religious facility-based stores.
In researching this, I discovered that perhaps the most popular of the review aggregator sites is Rotten Tomatoes, a movie review and rating site. Homework for anyone thinking of launching a review aggregator site probably should include spending time on sites like this and learning what they do well and why they are popular. One thing both this site and Book Marks have going is that they are fun places to explore. Also, Rotten Tomatoes is owned by Fandango, an online movie ticket company that integrates ticket sales into the Rotten Tomatoes site.
I have a day job, so this is not something I’d take on, but I do wonder if it ought to get on someone’s radar, if we think religious reading is a way to deepen our spiritual lives. It seems to me that religious teachers need connections to good scholarly resources with the latest scholarship.
I’d be curious what others think. Would you use such a site? Would you buy through such a site? Would you tell others about it? Who do you think are stakeholders who might invest in such an effort?