Riffle Uses Chat Bots, Big Data & Human Recommendations to Drive Book Discovery
Bookish social network site Riffle is dedicated to helping readers find new books and discuss their favorite reads with like-minded users. Riffle CEO Neil Baptista says that Riffle is an inspiration platform that drives book discovery by connecting users with fellow readers, librarians, authors, and book deals. The site is free to join and offers book recommendations based on behavior data and personal recommendations from book experts. Users can also join book clubs or sign up for Riffle’s ebook deals newsletter. In the following interview, Baptista explains Riffle’s mission and what sets it apart from other book-focused social networks.
What problem are you solving?
Our thesis is that reading experiences are better when people talk about books. You find better books, understand them more deeply, and can inspire others with your opinions and recommendations. Riffle supports and catalyzes these conversations whether it’s a simple comment on what you’re reading, a full book club, or the opportunity to follow genre experts as they dive deep and uncover amazing books well beyond the simple bestsellers lists.
Our innovation is really combining big data with personal context to drive our news feed. It’s not just a stream of reading updates. There’s also content in the form of posts from other readers, publishers, and our own expert editors.
Our newest feature is a Riffle chat bot that will connect users directly to suggestions and a conversation with a real, live book expert (usually librarians from our community who are skilled at readers’ advisory).
Publishers can benefit by getting distribution for their content to the right audience of readers. Exposure that’s based on reading history, intent to read, genre selections, and engagement with books and other users. Publishers who are running ebook deals can tap into spikes in downloads of their titles when our newsletter goes out. Books in the newsletter include Big Five publishers running promotions, as well as independent publishers.
How did you come up with this idea?
We ran a very successful app platform for authors to market in Facebook. It had over 1 million users and generated over a billion news feeds. That gave us a sense of how authors and publishers run campaigns and especially what sort of data is most important. As Facebook moved to news feed advertising, we decided to create a stand alone community that would deliver the same benefits. So, Riffle has data that you can’t get in the big social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Twitter). As the role of content grows, Riffle offers both tools to create content and a built-in audience.
What are the most important trends in publishing today?
As Amazon pursues its physical store strategy they will erode publishers’ hold on access to distribution of physical books. That may give many authors more impetus to publish independently or through Amazon and claim much higher royalties. It also may add pressure for large publishers to speed up their nascent direct-to-consumer strategies. On both fronts, Riffle offers targeted access to a book consumer audience using a combination of content, promotions, and advertising. The social community aspects of Riffle make it a repeat destination that naturally attracts avid readers of more than 11 books per year. That’s a potential audience of 49 million Americans who purchase about 80% of the books published per year. Having a long-term relationship with that type of audience is at the core of Riffle’s value (and also what drove the value of Goodreads).
Who is your competition?
We compete primarily with Goodreads on the social front and with Bookbub on the deals front. They are both big, but there is plenty of room in the marketplace for a competitor who is innovating.
We focus on whatever opportunities there are to inspire people to read more and to have conversations about books. As long as people are finding great books and engaging with other readers on Riffle, it’s a virtuous cycle.
Neil has always been obsessed with software. In 2000, he pioneered the Software as a Service (SaaS) model with hotjobs.com, leading up to their successful IPO and later sale to Yahoo. At the dawn of mobile, he worked on sms and ringtone apps and then in 2009 created an author platform for Facebook. The app had over 1 million users and produced over 1 billion news feeds about books. Neil is currently obsessed with helping people find great books at Riffle. Outside of Riffle, he has been known to photograph everything from temples in Cambodia to backstage antics at Paris fashion shows. He lives in New York, but you can find him on Riffle.