TheReadingRoom, a book discovery, reading, and e-commerce service, recently relaunched its website and relocated its headquarters to New York City, and it continues to roll out new services and features. Founded in Sydney, Australia, in 2010, the site now has more than 1.2 million members and plans to focus on growing its influence in the American book market.
“We’re looking for more awareness in the U.S.,” said CEO Kim Anderson. TheReadingRoom’s website is now scalable—“the old site slowed down the more people visited it”— and is optimized for mobile traffic and “especially designed for social sharing.” She said that the site “attracted more than a million members before the new design and continues to grow rapidly.” Despite its Australian roots, the CEO said more than 70% of its members are based in the U.S.
TheReadingRoom offers members lists of curated titles and lets them post their own lists, reviews, and comments in member discussions. Members can connect with like-minded readers about the books they’re reading. Anderson described the site as a repository of “curated content,” as well as a community of readers. “We have an editorial staff that suggests books and an algorithmic recommendation engine. We try to meld the two kinds of recommendations together.”
The site also offers access to bibliographic data, maintained by a team of data entryists, on more than seven million titles. “We check everything,” Anderson noted.
E-commerce, Anderson said, is a key feature of the platform, and, through a partnership with Baker & Taylor, visitors to TheReadingRoom can buy print titles or e-books. (In Australia, the site partners with BookWorld, a Pearson-owned retailing operation, to fulfill book sales.) “Sales are small right now, but whatever you want to do with books, you can do it on our site: read, share, or buy,” she said.
Anderson emphasized that TheReadingRoom will be independent, adding, “We don’t want authors reviewing their own books. We want to separate church and state. Readers need to know what’s sponsored and what’s unsponsored content.” Revenue comes from advertising (she said the company can target more than seven million people who have visited TheReadingRoom and its Facebook page), book sales, and by licensing data on member usage.
“We have a lot of data and we can slice and dice it,” Anderson noted. “We have data on what’s on members’ bookshelves and how the books are rated. All of this is important to publishers and other advertisers who are trying to reach an audience.” The company is developing dashboards to deliver analytics to advertisers as well: “There’s more of that to come; data is no good if you can’t extract it and make it meaningful. We’re looking at new tools to help advertisers interrogate the data.”
TheReadingRoom launched with self-financing and added $2.7 million in private financing at the end of 2013 to help fund its move to New York. The company has eight full-time staffers, three of whom are in the U.K.
“It’s an interesting time to be in book publishing—everyone’s experimenting,” Anderson said, adding that TheReadingRoom has “more tools and cool stuff coming.”