Scribd Builds New Discovery Experience, Mix of Human and Machine Ebook Picks, Abandons BISAC

Subscription ebook service Scribd is pinning much of the hope for its success on a new world-class book discovery engine, the first part of which launches today.

The new technology is a mix of editor tagging and curation, a new book categorization system that eschews the widely accepted BISAC book classification scheme, and algorithms that help put it all together to surface new and better book recommendations to users. In the future, big data and machine learning will be used to refine the system in future iterations. (More on its departure from BISAC in the release below.)

“Book discovery is deeply strategic for us,” said Scribd co-founder and chief technology officer Jared Friedman. “It goes hand in hand with the book subscription model.”

For Scribd, the key is getting more people to discover books “serendipitously,” as Friedman put it. Books on Scribd are discovered two ways, he said: through direct searches and serendipitously, which includes browsing and recommended titles. More than half of Scribd titles are discovered serendipitously now, and the company believes that the key to retaining more subscribers is to grow that proportion further.

Helping readers discover books they don’t already know about is also key for Scribd and other subscription services to survive in the new publishing economy, Friedman said.

“If it’s just a way for people to read the same books they’re already reading but pay for them in a different way, that’s not a long term strategy for the publishing industry,” he said.

Recommendation engines are more important for subscription services than for other kinds of retail operations because retention is all about keeping customers engaged. Scribd had been engaged in talks with Book Lamp, the book recommendation engine recently acquired by Apple, to power its recommendations; those talks have since ended. There has been speculation that Apple’s acquisition is a prelude to launching its own ebook subscription service.

Scribd is investing heavily in recommendations. It has hired a team of editors based in San Francisco to work on its service (but would not say how many) and will continue to build its technology, Friedman said.

A better book recommendation engine is one of the things that Scribd is hoping will help it succeed against its competitors, traditional book retail and other modes of entertainment.

“If people see subscription services as purely an economic decision, then it can never work,” said Friedman. “The opportunity is to create a differentiated experience.”

Ultimately, Scribd hopes to widen the overall pool of readers, attracting casual book buyers who would value the convenience of access to books, even if they don’t read them all the time.


Scribd’s new browse feature, with new non-BISAC categories.

[Press Release]

Subscription Book Service Blends Computer Algorithms with Human Editorial
to Advance Serendipitous Discovery

Scribd, the leading e-book subscription service, featuring more than 500,000 titles including bestsellers and award-winners in every genre, today announced a reimagined way to digitally browse and discover books. Scribd’s new browse experience brings the familiar elements of browsing a neighborhood bookstore into the digital realm, from personalized staff picks, to shelves for every category and special interest niche imaginable.

“Our goal with the new browse experience was to retain the same human touch that we have come to love about personal recommendations from a trusted friend, but use the power of technology to extend it to our catalog of over 500,000 books,” said Jared Friedman, co-founder and CTO of Scribd. “The result is as if we’ve built every reader their own personalized bookstore, with the human touch readers love, that they are now able to carry around in their back pocket.”

The foundation of the new browse experience is a proprietary category structure that allows readers to browse both at a high level, like Fiction & Literature, and a very niche level, like Biographies of Outlaws. Instead of using BISAC, a dated cataloging system, Scribd’s category tree was designed from the ground up to best facilitate book discovery.

To take organization to the next level, Scribd’s in-house editorial team curated tens of thousands of detailed tags about books, identifying their subjects, locations, time periods, and aesthetic qualities. Using this rich dataset, Scribd created unique collections of books tailored to specific tastes, such as “Arthurian Legends” or “Private Eye Mysteries Set In LA”. These niche collections are then served up to readers based on their interests and reading activity. For example, if a reader has read a mystery thriller and a travel book about Scandinavia, Scribd might suggest the collection “Nordic Noir”, a curated list of 21 Scandinavian crime novels.

“Scribd’s subscription model does wonders for book discovery, because it eliminates so much of the friction that usually exists to begin reading a good book,” said Trip Adler, co-founder and CEO. “Meanwhile our new browse feature alone is a huge step forward for book discovery. Ultimately we believe it’s the combination of the subscription model with our innovative book discovery offering that will create a magical experience for readers, and this is just the beginning of more to come.”

Scribd’s new browse features include:

— New look, feel, and voice – More than rows of books, the browse experience guides readers through the entire Scribd library with personal notes from Scribd’s editorial team and a rich visual experience complete with custom graphics.
— Topical Collections – Browse goes beyond simple categories with thousands of unique, all-new proprietary collections based on the subjects, location, time period, and aesthetic qualities of books.
— Scribd Selects – Handpicked favorites from the Scribd editorial staff in every genre complete with personal blurbs.
— Guest Curated Collections – Readers can explore various collections recommended by acclaimed authors, such as top sports books curated by Juliet Macur and romance reads curated by Maya Rodale.
— Algorithmic Recommendations – Scribd’s powerful recommendation engine offers recommendations personalized picks for the reader that update dynamically as they browse through genres. Niche collections are surfaced only to the right readers.
— Top Books and Authors– Readers can browse the top books on Scribd in one place: from what’s trending among Scribd readers to New York Times bestsellers to award-winners in every genre.

Scribd’s all new browse experience is available now on and will be available in the mobile apps over the coming weeks.

About Scribd
Scribd is the premier subscription reading service with more than 500,000 titles, including New York Times bestsellers, classics, and reader favorites in every genre. Available in more than 100 countries and 80 languages via iOS, Android, Windows, Kindle Fire, Nook tablets and the web, Scribd also features millions of written works contributed by users around the world. Launched in 2007 by Trip Adler and Jared Friedman and backed by Y Combinator, Charles River Ventures, and Redpoint Ventures, Scribd is one of the most influential websites in the world, reaching more than 80 million active readers every month. For more information, please visit


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