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Barnes and Noble’s new app makes finding your next read less overwhelming

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‘What book should I read next?’

(Screen grab of app)
Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

For publishers and authors, book discovery is a continual challenge. Sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and Smashwords contain hundreds of millions of books, which makes the task of connecting a reader to the right read difficult amid the clutter. This week, Barnes and Noble released a new app called Browsery that seeks to solve that problem by creating a community that offers recommendations to one another.

It’s not a new concept; for example, Goodreads lets you track your progress in your current read, while also showing what your friends are reading and recommending. There’s also Litsy (which was recently acquired by another cataloging site LibraryThing), that lets readers share images of what they’re reading along with short reviews. Then, of course, there are retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, which have their own ecosystems of algorithm-driven recommendations and consumer reviews.

All of those sites rely on extensive communities to serve up recommendations to would-be readers, and by comparison, Browsery is a bit more constrained. The format is simple: a user asks a question — “What is your all-time favorite fantasy novel?” or “I’ve been enjoying time-travel books recently. Any suggestions?” — then other users can reply with a recommendation and a short blurb about why they like that book.

That back-and-forth interaction gives the app a more personal feel than similar sites. While Goodreads and Amazon (and even Barnes and Noble) pages focus on reviews, Browsery explicitly asks readers to provide a unique answer for a specific question. It’s one thing to draw up a list of books about time travel, but it’s another to recommend The Gone World for its interesting take on a procedural in which investigators can change the outcomes in the course of their investigation. The recommendations feel more weighty than simply seeing a book pop up in a search or appear in a news feed. The ability to ask open-ended questions (“What is your favorite book about Mars?”) as well as super specific ones (“Does anyone have any good urban fantasy series besides Mercy Thompson and Kate Daniels?”) allows for a variety of answers for people who are looking for something casually or something similar to their favorite novel.

That specific focus on asking questions does mean that the app is pretty limited. You can add books to your profile, but the way to do that is a bit roundabout; it’s designed more to save recommendations that you want to check out rather than catalog your own personal library. There’s also no tracking feature like Goodreads has to ensure that you keep using the app every time you pick up a book. That’s unfortunate since it’s an indispensable feature in the Goodreads app that I use religiously to keep track of where I am in any of the half-dozen or so books that I’m reading at a given time. As with all apps, more features are likely to be added post-launch after more user feedback.