Friday, 20 March 2009

Book Army

HarperCollins' new website for readers, Book Army, is now open to all. Anyone can join and comment on the books that they've read, and add links between books. Working on the reasonable premise that someone who enjoyed reading Maggie O'Farrell might also like Sue Gee, it's hoped that Book Army's users will create an intricate network of links which they can then refer to in order to discover even more books to enjoy.

The problem is that there is no restriction on the links that can be made. Book Army isn't restricted to HarperCollins books and lists anything with an ISBN: I quickly found Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea, and Crack of Death by Sharla Tann (which are respectively the worst book and the second-worst book ever written) and linked them to one another. But while those two books fit beautifully together, I could just as easily have linked them to a car repair manual, A Brief History Of Time, or to Pride And Prejudice. It is very simple to link entirely inappropriate books to one another: it probably won't be too long before someone links the Satanic Verses to the Koran, because there don't appear to be any controls in place.

That lack of control means that anyone can join the site and create links between any books at all. That might not sound too bad, but I don't think it's going to be long before links start to be made between highly-successful commercially-published books and some of the truly dreadful unedited ravings that have been self-published over the years. There's nothing to stop people with grudges linking competent authors’ books to dreadful books: and if you don't think that's likely to happen, just think of the internet flame-wars which erupt out of nowhere every day.

At present there's little new on offer here for readers, who can find more information and lots of dense book-to-book linking on Amazon. Which means that in the short term at least, Book Army's main users are likely to be the less-successful writers, particularly those who are solely responsible for the promotion of their own books: the vanity-published and self-published writers. And while there are some excellent books in this category it has a larger share of dreadful books and a higher proportion of angry writers than you'll find in any other publishing sector.

So: is Book Army a good idea or a bad one? Anything which encourages people to read more, and more widely, has to have at least some good points: but the lack of monitoring and control in Book Army's system leads me to suspect that while the intentions behind it are good, it is unlikely to achieve that aim for some time yet.

12 comments:

BuffySquirrel said...

I joined Book Army when I first read about it, but I don't think I've been back since. It's a bad habit of mine....

nmj said...

Hey, Thanks for highlighting this, I had not heard of it. The internet is a *constant* potential for flareups, as you say, but I don't think Book Army will really fan the flames much higher, though I have not joined so haven't seen exactly how it works. My novel is already linked to a couple of self-published /vanity published books on Amazon, by virtue of its subject matter, I may not like this (I *was* irked, but got over it, I tried telling myself I was being elitist and unreasonable!). I guess at the end of the day it is the reader's choice to buy what they buy... we cannot control how discerning they are, and probably should not... but dreadful, unedited books will simply not keep selling, surely?

Paul Lamb said...

I've found Literature Map to be a pretty good method of finding fiction that is similar to writers I like (or don't like). It's easy to Google and find--I don't have the URL with me at the moment.

I can't claim to know how it works, but it's supposed to use some sort of artificial intelligence program to make the connections. The times I've looked up a given author's name, the system has pointed me to other writers whose work I know to be similar (in subject matter or style or such), so maybe it works. I have found that it tends to be better with "literary" fiction rather than "commercial" fiction.

Elle Scott said...

I typed in 'Coraline' just to see what would happen, and the site came up with 'Name of the Rose'. Both are very good books, yet I don't see the connection (especially since 'Coraline' is a children's book and 'Name of the Rose' is a heck of a long read). But it didn't bother me. Actually, it was a great deal of fun. Kind of like that 'six degrees of separation' game.

BuffySquirrel said...

I'm somewhat disturbed by the header to the email Book Army just sent me.

bookarmy - never read a book book again

Seriously. What?

(word ver: multer)

Jane Smith said...

Buffy, I've just got that same email. Only I read it as some sort of advice to stay away from Russell Brand's autobiography.

The correct version is far more peculiar. Are they suggesting that we should only read e-books, do you think? Or is it a slogan that they didn't put enough thought into?

BuffySquirrel said...

I went to log in and got a "log in remainder". Sigh.

Even logged in, I can't immediately see the correct header. What is it?

Derek said...

I went there, signed up, added 4 books to my "library," and was informed that I was the 1,447th best-read person. Presumably only 1,446 people have read 5 or more books.

The problem with these book networking sites, as I see it, is that there's just too many of them.

Laura said...

Haha, this is so mean of me, but check out the freaking product description for Crack of Death [title fail]: "This exciting erotic thriller fiction novel is the emotional, spine-chilling story of the beautiful hairdresser Nancy whose life spirals out of control when she meets an exotic, Latino hunk." That's just sentence one... I giggled. Not in a good way.

Laura said...

oh, wait, it's supposed to be terrible, right?

Jane Smith said...

Derek, I just had a look at my profile at BA again and several people who I don't think I know have asked me to be their friends... I'm not sure why. I thought I'd put most people off me by now.

Laura, both Crack of Death and Atlanta Nights were written to be as bad as possibly--by a group of good writers. I was one of the writers who worked in CoD and it was really, incredibly hard to write that badly: I was surprised!

You can read about CoD here, and do Google Atlanta Nights, too, as you can read that online if you can stand it. They really are fantastically bad.

(I might blog about these two books soon, just to give everyone a little bit of light relief. I've been far too serious lately, and I warn you--there's more of the stern stuff to come.)

Mockingbird said...

Would love to know what Book Army is supposed to be for? Is it a rival to Amazon?... Because you can do all that listing stuff and recommends in Amazon (in which case, largely pointless). It strikes me that Harper Collins have just created a second website that they have no idea what purpose it might serve. Nuts. Absolutely nuts.