Zola Books Snaps Up Bookish To Power Its Literary Recommendations

Heads-up, bibliophiles: social e-book retailer Zola Books has acquired curated book recommendation site Bookish. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but a spokesperson for Zola Books confirmed that there were multiple bidders in the mix and that Zola was the smallest of the bunch.

In case you hadn’t heard of it, Bookish is a book discovery site founded by Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Penguin Random House (then known as Penguin Group) to help users (what else?) find new books to lose themselves in. While both outfits sells books directly to consumers, Zola seems much more interested in building social reading apps that could currently stand a bit of a boost when it comes to proffering recommendations for new titles to fall into.

It’s still a relatively young venture — it originally launched back in February and is still in beta — and I haven’t been able to confirm why Bookish’s owners seemed to eager to sell it after less than a year. The party line is that they felt Bookish would be better off in the hands of a company that could operate with greater speed and flexibility, which I suspect isn’t the entire story.

And at first glance, Bookish seems like a pretty strange acquisition target for a company as new to the scene as Zola Books — the startup first launched its site last year with just north of $1 million in seed funding from a handful of big-name authors (like Audrey Niffenegger of The Time Traveler’s Wife fame) to take a social approach to selling ebooks. Sure, you can just putz around and shell out money for whatever titles catch your eye, but the site’s big draw is the ability for users to follow recommendations from friends, authors, publishers, and personalities. Since then the team has been fleshing out the site with new features and recently locked up another $3.9 million in seed money in a round led by HBO founder Charles Dolan. Regardless, once the ink is dry on those contracts, Bookish will be solely owned and operated by the Zola Books team.

These days I’m told that Zola sells “thousands” of its ebooks each month, though the company was very eager to point out its sales are more of a symptom of its community-building efforts than the result of a concerted commerce push. That said though, this is still a business, and on some level you’re only as valuable as the next book you buy. It’s not hard to see how Bookish’s recommendation smarts could come into play as a way to highlight more choices for Zola users to dive into (and hopefully pay for).

Meanwhile, Bookish will continue to operate as its own separate site “for the foreseeable future”, as will its recommendation API. At this point, there’s even talk of open-sourcing Bookish’s recommendation magic in a bid to get it in the hands of libraries and independent bookstores.