Discovery and Discoverability

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

At Jellybooks, a start-up focused on exploring, sampling and sharing books, we are always thinking about how readers discover and share new books.

Recently, I had an online debate with others around the question “what is discoverability?” Here some personal thoughts from that discussion:



I would define this as the process by which a reader, especially a frequent reader, finds a great book, something they didn’t search for, because they had no awareness of the title or author.

Discovery can happen through a friend’s recommendation, a chance review, a mention on a radio program and increasingly through a tweet, a Facebook like, a pin on Pinterest, etc. Overall, serendipity is a major part of the process. If you study network theory, then you find that connections outside your “inner circle” of friends are critical to this process.

Today, if one already knows the author or title of a book, then it is trivial to find a copy, whether digital or printed (Google, Amazon, etc.) and there is essentially no “discovery” involved with the search process. It is just fulfillment, facilitated by accurate metadata and metatags. Catering to the demand from readers who already know what they want to read is essentially search engine optimization.

By the same token, buying the new book form an author one already knows is more a matter of awareness (that a new book is out) than discovery, because you already have “discovered” the author.



At Jellybooks, we define the process of discovery optimization by which publishers aim to make their books discoverable so that that potential readers with an interest in the subject, genre, etc become aware of them.

This involves getting the book in front of the readers through word-of mouth, co-op programs, reviews, etc. Marketing is key to create basic awareness and marketing involves increasingly social media, blogs and new services, like Small Demons, Readmill, Goodreads, Librarything and well – ahem – Jellybooks. (Shameless plug, but you knew it was coming! :))


Going With the Masses

That’s the reader who buys off the New York Times best-seller list or Amazon’s popularity list. An awful lot of irregular or low frequency reader’s fall into this group. They go with what is “safe”, what the “herd” is reading. The key to getting a book onto one of the lists is to bet on:

1. An established author

2. A big marketing campaign

3. Strategic pricing experiments/promotions (getting the book first onto the popularity list and from there into the bestseller list)

This is pretty much the traditional mass-market approach which increasingly is dominated through and through by Amazon. There is really not too much discovery or discoverability involved in this process.

But what about stimulating serendipity? That’s what we try to do at Jellybooks: to channel, encourage and amplify social discussions.

For instance, including the first 10% of an ebook with your tweet, pin or email sells a book like nothing else. Why 10%? In user studies, we found that readers attached disproportional value to 10%. It was not too little to be trivial and no too much to “give the plot away”.

Just one of the things we’re trying to help readers discover books (and help publishers sell more books online).

Related: Discoverability and Marketing Are Publishing Company Differentiators, Says Perseus CMO

Come hear me speak at the IDPF Digital Conference in NYC on Monday about why we’re breaking ten common rules for selling books online. Talk titled “F*** the rules”

Learn much more about discoverability and marketing at the Digital Book World Discoverability and Marketing Conference in New York on September 24 and 25.

Register before June 15 and get a discount!

3 thoughts on “Discovery and Discoverability

  1. Carolyn McCray

    Hi 🙂

    I have a few questions about a two of your statements in your article.

    First is…
    “getting the book first onto the popularity list and from there into the bestseller list”

    I would love to see your data on this since my experience is that that the pop lists are more of a charting rather than an actual sales platform. I will be doing a blog in the near future that goes over the math, however I would love to see the numbers you based that statement upon.

    Second is…
    “For instance, including the first 10% of an ebook with your tweet, pin or email sells a book like nothing else.”

    Can we get some stats for this because, again, in my experience, this just does not hold up. For one thing the difference between a tweet or pin driving sales as opposed to an cultivated email blast are night and day. Social media normally yields a less than 0.01% purchase ratio whereas an email blast should gain you at least 2-10% purchases.

    Also in my experience I try and drive around the sampling window. Normal conversion from sampling to purchase is somewhere in the 1-8%. Whereas paid ads run far more in the 30-40% range.

    The stats coming out of Smashwords are pretty dismal as well for sampling to purchase.

    Do you have other stats that support your claim that sampling “sells a book like nothing else?”

    Thanks so much and look forward to your numbers 🙂

  2. Andrew Rhomberg

    MY comments regarding popularity list refers to how some self-publishes authors use freebies to get up the popularity list with the aim of getting \discovered\ and as a result climbing up the sales charts.

    I made no comment about a tweet versus and email, especially a marketing \blast\. My claim was that an email or tweet, like, pin WITH a sample (as cloud link) is more effective than one without. There is plenty of evidence with respect to people talking about a news article versus including a link that new article and there are plenty of numbers that readers are more likely to make a purchase decision, if they have been able to read a sample versus buying the book based on cover and recommendation alone.

    as for Smashwords, no comment on their user experience…



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