Archive for the ‘books’ category

B&N Studio: The Weird, Wired Word

21, June, 2008

It’s one of the most neuron-twisting meta-multi-maxi-media concoctions I’ve come across: A website that uses original video, podcast audio and a broad range of social media such as message boards, wisdom-of-the-crowds surveys and user-generated content to build market share of. . ink-on-paper books.

I refer to B&N Studio, a newish area of Barnes&Noble’s website. While it’s been live since March, the launch of three new features brought it to my attention.

It\'s About the Books

I found it to be mostly good stuff. Among the new features is something called Book Files, which delivers brief stories-behind-the-story. (One retells the hoary publishing world tale wherein an untitled, retyped version of a Jerzy Kozinski novel is submitted to 14 publishers and rejected by all.)

There’s the new Guest Books, in which well-known writers (Anne Rice, David Sedaris) select and offer mouseover blurbs on three favorite books by other people.

There’s Tagged, a too-cute-by-two-thirds gals’ book-clubby “video magazine” [B&N’s words, not mine]. There are admirably inobstrusive links to buy books along the way.

The whole site is tricked out with viral sharewidgetry, and few pages do not permit some sort of rating, commenting, reviewing or feedbacking.

There is some lousy execution here: An 11 minute “video” which consists of an author interview running behind a single grating photo of the author. It’s a podcast repurposed for the web and fails utterly. Mini-documentaries that pay tribute to the “Book Obsessed” are 5 minutes long–about twice what they should be. Some of the video carries the whiff of filmmaker auteurs chafing against the realities of web-native video.

Yes, the idea of using video in a 2.0 environment to push Gutenbergware is unsettling, like a key moment of cultural dislocation. Purists will sniff.

But compared to that other online book retailer Amazon–whose hyperpersonalized, multiproduct, endlessly dynamic, long-memoried merchandise-o-matic makes me feel force-fed, like one of those poor foie gras geese–the B&N Studio is a pleasant place to visit, sort of like the book stores themselves on a good night.

Unlike Amazon, B&N Studio feels like it’s about the books.