A Book Review Aggregator for Religious Books?


Alltop.com screenshot, by Alves Family (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

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 Tomatoesa 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?




Lit Hub’s “Book Marks”

Book Marks The book review aggregator

Publishers’ Weekly recently featured a new initiative by Lit Hub called Book Marks which is an aggregator of book reviews across the web, primarily from syndicated publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post, and various review publications across the web.

I had a chance to visit yesterday and thought it was a pretty cool place, particularly to find reviews and ratings of new books. Here are some of the features you will find, from top to bottom.

On the right side of the black bar with Lit Hub on the left is a search box where you may enter the title of a book you want to see reviews for. Only books with three or more syndicated reviews will appear.

A site map across the top of the page takes you to the following pages:

  • Features: Review articles and other book related articles including content from Lit Hub.
  • New books: Recently published books with three or more reviews.
  • Biggest new books: The “hottest” books of the season. I presume this is by sales, because ratings on the books vary (more below)
  • Fiction: Reviews on recent fiction publications
  • Non-fiction: Reviews on recent non-fiction
  • All categories: Books listed by thirty-one categories. For each, four titles are listed by cover image with a “see more” link to the right.

Clicking on “Book Marks” will take you back to the home page. So much for navigation around the site.

On the home page, across the top most part of the page are cover images of the “biggest new books.” When you mouse over the cover image, you will see a summary of reviews ranked from “rave” to “positive” to “mixed” to “pan” and an overall average of these. Currently, for example, David Sedaris’s new book, Calypso has received more than 10 rave reviews, 5 positive, and none in the other two categories for an overall rating of “rave.” Meg Wollitzer’s The Female Persuasion has more than 10 rave reviews, 9 positive, 7 mixed and 3 pan for an overall “positive.” On the other hand, Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s The President is Missing received 3 raves, 5 positives, 6 mixed, and 4 pans for a “mixed” overall rating. Obviously reviewers don’t agree and you probably won’t either.

Clicking on the book cover image will take you to a page for the book with excerpts of several reviews, links to the full reviews and a link that will take you to all reviews for the book.Each page includes a “Buy From a Local Bookstore” box that will take you to Indie Bound and allow you to buy your book from a local bookstore. Take that, Amazon! The bottom of the page features similar books. Each page also includes a reviews “widget” for that page that may be embedded on a website of an author or publisher or bookseller. It is a great way to see the critical conversation going on about a book.

Below the Biggest New Books are Book Marks Features, then Latest Releases, Best Reviewed (not explained but it suggests that some of the best written reviews may be found here), a Daily Giveaway, More Fiction, More Non-fiction, LGBTQ Stories (I wonder if this selection changes), links to the various fiction and non-fiction categories on Book Marks, and links to the latest stories on Lit Hub. [Lit Hub also cross links their content with Book Marks.]

The three features which make this an extremely valuable site are the aggregated professional reviews (with names on them), the widgets, which help publishers and bookstores promote a book on their websites, and the function that allows you to find a local indie bookseller from whom to purchase books.

What could make this more valuable? I’d love to see them put together a phone app you could use when you are browsing in a book store. Scan the bar code for the book and the app pulls up the book page on Book Marks and allows you to see the ratings and read the reviews and decide if this book is for you. The one down side is that there are many books not yet loaded on the site since this is a new project, but particularly for new books on a variety of topics, and a selection of others, this is a great resource that promises to get better with time.