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Retailer Plus Social Reading Equals: What Game Is Anobii Playing?

If, like me, you spend a lot of time on the internet (like… y’know… enough to clock when adverts change on the same web pages) you will probably have noticed the intense ramping up of aNobii activity across all digital channels recently. In the past two months, their online advertising reached the level of intense saturation usually reserved for dating websites – displaying as gates on pirated videos before you watch them, weird sidebar ad placement on forums, promoted tweets, heaps of whacky Pinterest boards… and so on.

So given the company launched in 2006, why now?

If you’re a publisher, aNobii have been on the radar for a while (maybe because it’s partially owned by three publishers – HC, RH and Penguin). Their CEO Matteo Berlucchi has been giving presentations on publishing for a number of years, and is good at making his voice heard in a progressive but sane way.

But, as is the issue with a lot of publishing ventures that do a hard work in the trade channels, this presence seems to get lost on the way to readers. Berlucchi has refused to give actual numbers of users for aNobii, but the stats on the site speak for themselves – the largest ‘topic’ I can find (‘Free eBooks’) has 220 members. The equivalent group on Goodreads has 1740 members. Doesn’t instil great confidence in me about their reach.

Here’s what I found when I was looking for info on aNobii strategy. As with the site itself, this presentation is flashy, but I’m really not clear as to what it’s saying aside from ‘social is the future of sales’. Well, ok. But how is aNobii leveraging that fact in a distinct and interesting way?

The way I see it, their main competitors are Goodreads – pure reading community – and Amazon – pure storefront. aNobii sits somewhere in the middle, trying to both sell and promote. As soon as you log in, there’s a confusion as to what’s being asked of you – the equal weighting of ‘wishlist’ and ‘followers’ in the interface pretty much encapsulates the dilemma.

According to Berlucchi, his real strategy is ‘to own the Books section on Facebook’ rather than build the site as a destination in and of itself. I guess, then, the news that social reading on Facebook has seen a significant drop off and people find automated updates annoying and intrusive must be a bit of a blow.

Also, if you’ve ever tried to search for anything on Facebook ever you will know exactly how absolutely appalling their algorithm is and how organic discoverability is basically impossible. In my book, Facebook real estate has plummeted in value.

So Amazon is playing the long game and Facebook is playing ‘Risk‘. I would guess that on the way to justifying ROI, the aNobii concept has been confused and now it’s trying to play ping-pong with a baseball bat. I hope they can pull this back into a more structured and meaningful user experience, but I don’t think advertising saturation is going to make their message any clearer to readers and I’m fundamentally sceptical of the possibility of a successful marriage between hard selling and organic community.

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Felice Howden

Felice Howden had opinions before she knew what the word 'opinion' meant. She wrote for the publishing and ideas blog Socratic Ignorance Is Bliss, and has had short stories published around the place. She graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2008 with a degree in English and Philosophy, and now spends her time typing code and hatching brain eggs for the future of publishing in a major publishing house.
  • AstridVirili

    I suggest you compare the old and the new version of the site http://www.anobii.com and http://beta.anobii.com
    The community on anobii is smaller than goodreads but you should consider that the majority of its users are italians. 
    There is a lot of social activity, not only in groups but in real-life meetings and a yearly meetup for all users, organized entirely by volunteers:
    2011 in Venice http://sites.google.com/site/venezianobii/ 
    2012 in Urbino http://anobii2012urbino.blogspot.com/
    I don’t know if other larger communities have something similar, I’ve never heard of them.
    Opinions about the new anobii are not good, because the “social” part is lacking entirely – I mean groups, opportunity of book exchange and so on. 
    Mr Berlucchi said that this is only temporarily, and that the new anobii will have all the features of the old, plus the ebook store.
    But I think that the greatest value of this site, as perceived by its users, is the social interaction, and that it was an error to give access to the new anobii without these features.

  • Matteo Berlucchi

    Felice, good post. Let me share some info which makes your comments more relevant and provides some more context.

    I agree with you that finding the balance between social and retail is difficult and this is the task we have set to ourselves. Time will tell if we will succeed. At the moment we are working on the new platform which we estimate will have all the core features in place in the next 3/4 months (as suggested by AstridVirili in her comment below).

    During this phase we are going to do a lot of ‘pivoting’, the Silicon Valley way to say try & measure. We are not taking anything for granted and our approach is based on a strong API centric view of the world: we are building the tools to allow us to reconfigure the service very rapidly until it’s fine tuned in the correct way.
    We are doing the same with online marketing: this is why you are seeing a flurry of activity on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. This is currently not aimed at delivering real traffic but it’s intended to give us a lot of metrics which we will then use for the real go-to-market action later in the year.

    Bringing together readers with ebooks in the right way is somewhat the whole grail of ereading and we are going to give it our best shot. Of this, you can rest assured.

    Matteo

    • http://twitter.com/FeliceTherese Felice Howden

      Thanks for commenting, Matteo, & for reading. It does make more sense that you’re listening to users rather than driving traffic at this stage given you’re doing a huge relaunch. I think you’ve set yourselves a mammoth task – connecting readers and books (simple as it may sound to most people) is only getting harder in such a flooded market. Best of luck with the relaunch – I look forward to seeing the final product.

  • Cricaby

    Hi! I’d like to ask Mr.Berlucchi to consider the AstridVirili comment as it was in her/his intent:
    At least as I got it: the enormous autogoal anobii made launching the new version as I’m told it is.
    In my opinion,Matteo had to present their thoughts about anobii at Librarians,then listening them. All the terrorism created is his/their fault.
    I choose not to enter in the beta version,giving them time but it seems they follow mistaking with all these coming out.
    Instead than retailers,Matteo,look for someone by whom you can learn the art of approaching people,not easy don’t forget it, but very necessary along with saying the truth
    cristina,an alpha anobiian from Italy

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