News & Views

My Independent Bookshop

by Contagious I/O

Publisher creates virtual community for book-lovers, powered by human-recommendation

Penguin Random House has today launched a platform that lets people discover, share, review and buy books with other members of an online community.

My Independent Bookshop, developed in conjunction with London-based digital agency Collective, lets each user create a virtual book store of their favourite 12 reads. These can be themed – by season, genre or mood, for example – and can be shared across Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

Members can also bring together their favourite ‘shops’ to create a virtual high street of book recommendations. They can select shops owned by friends or family, as well as famous authors, local bookstores or librarians.

Author Terry Pratchett, who is supporting the campaign and will open the first virtual store, said: ‘The personal aspect of sharing recommendations in your own online shop gives readers the ability to discover surprising new worlds in an interesting way.’

The project launches today in closed beta, kick-starting an exclusive month-long period where select authors and book fans will be invited to join the community. In addition to finding reading inspiration, anyone setting up shop on the site will be eligible for exclusive rewards, such as the chance to meet authors, gain early access to new titles and attend book events.

All titles featured in My Independent Bookshop are available to purchase via Hive, an ecommerce platform that connects with hundreds of independent bookshops throughout the UK. At registration, users can choose their favourite local book store, and a commission from each online purchase will paid to that retailer.

Julie Howkins, ecommerce manager at Gardners, which owns Hive, said: ‘This collaboration allows Hive to be part of a fantastic initiative which will not only encourage people to share their passion for reading and books with like-minded people, but will also help support hundreds of independent bookshops across the UK.’


An intriguing antidote to Big Data and smart algorithms, this campaign leverages the value and trust that readers place in human recommendations.

Human vs machine / While ecommerce giants like Amazon concentrate on using search history to drive future purchases, Penguin Random House is cleverly exploring the power of the personal touch. This decision is based on research, conducted by the publisher, which found that 60% of people ask friends or family for book suggestions before deciding what to read next. ‘While we increasingly see the value of [algorithmic recommendations], and are investing in how we get better insight from our data, we passionately believe human recommendation will always be an integral part of finding great books,’ said Hannah Telfer, Penguin Random House UK’s group director of consumer & digital development.

What’s smart about My Independent Bookshop is it merges the power of the personal suggestion with a host of additional benefits. Firstly, users can still ask their friends and family about what to read next, but they can also keep tabs on the top picks of their favourite authors, bookstores and industry figures. Secondly, integration with Hive means they can enjoy the convenience of online book shopping, while still injecting something back into the UK’s network of independent bookshops. And thirdly, using the platform comes with added incentives for book-lovers, such as events, interviews and early previews.


'We passionately believe human recommendation will always be an integral part of finding great books'

– Hannah Telfer, Penguin Random House


Get personal / For Penguin Random House, this is part of a wider ambition to use digital tools to forge a closer, more personal relationship with readers. In a recent interview with The Guardian, the publishing house’s UK CEO, Tom Weldon, said learning more about their customers was crucial: ‘Where do they hang out, what do they like, how do we talk to them?’, before adding that the company is seeking a ‘direct relationship with readers to tell them about the books they might fall in love with'.

My Independent Bookshop is, then, helping to forge these direct links. The platform enables the publisher to understand more about its customer’s individual interests while also creating a community that new book launches can tap into. Most importantly, the virtual shops maintain the personal elements of reading, offering up a more trusted, human alternative to the Big Data machinery of other big book sellers.

This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our customisable research platform featuring the world’s most innovative, creative and effective marketing ideas