Sunday, May 15, 2011

Any New Books featured on the Chrome Web Store

We witnessed an unusually high number of signups over the weekend. After some investigative work, I'm glad to report that Any New Books? was featured on the Chrome Web Store for the Shopping category. Pretty cool.

Those who don't use the Chrome web browser can check out the screenshot below.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Kindle and Staff Pick features

Kindle Availability

We are aware that quite a few of our readers enjoy buying Kindle ebooks in favor of printed versions. So far these subscribers have had to click through each book that interested them, just to verify if a Kindle version was available.

Starting from this week, users who prefer Kindle books will be able to immediately know if a given book is available at the Kindle Store. And not only that, but we've also distinguished between the American/International and the UK Kindle stores (the UK one is available to UK residents only).

The screenshot below shows examples of how we include links to these electronic versions when available:

We've made The Kindle category will go international next week, with links to the US and UK stores when available.

Staff Picks added to our site

We decided to group all of the Staff Picks for the current week together on a super handy page on our site. This will probably interest newcomers more than existing subscribers, but it's still nice to be able to take a gander at some of the best books from categories you don't already subscribe to.

Book of the Week

Finally, our third new feature is the "Book of the Week", which will be announced on Twitter and Facebook every week. The book will be chosen on the basis of many different criteria, but it's essentially the most interesting and exciting title of the week, in our opinion (and will likely be one that received Staff Picks in various categories).

Last week the honour went to "The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values" by Sam Harris as shown below:

There you have it. Feel free to let us know if you think there are features that we're really missing and that would make our free notification service more enjoyable for you. We're listening (wow, that sounds so Fraiser-ish of us).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Startup founders: avoid getting scammed in your quest for coverage

Coverage from highly popular websites and newspapers can be a huge aid when it comes to helping your startup succeed. No matter how good you are, getting traction and grabbing people's attention as a startup is pretty hard. As such, a fair number of startup founders are starved for coverage and would go to great lengths to get it.

It's hardly surprising then that there are some people out there who like to prey on this need. Case in point, here's an email I received last night:

Subject: Hi, I'd like to publish a 600-word feature on your Start-Up

Hello from San Francisco! My name is ****. I hope this message finds you well.

I run a site that features start-ups, ********.com. Our aims are simple:

• Host a thoughtful and creative review of your site on ********.com
• Provide helpful suggestions to improve user's experience
• Provide a keyword focused marketing boost for your site

I found your site on and would like to write a 600-word feature on it. Here are some recent examples.


The feature will be promoted on multiple social media sites including Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon, LinkedIn, and Buzz Up. We also include multiple links on Yahoo Answers.

Check out what other clients are saying about us: ********/buzz

It costs $65USD to be featured on ********. (Paypal'd to Paypal@********.com).

Let me know if you'd like to be featured or discuss this further.


This week Any New Books? received coverage from sites such as The Next Web, MakeUseOf, KillerStartups, wwwhatsnew, as well as from an Indian newspaper (Mumbai Mirror). They all loved our idea and execution, and decided to give us some exposure. Hundreds of people have signed up with our free new book notification service in the past 48 hours as a result of this exposure. We haven't paid a single cent for such coverage.

Reputable, genuine tech news sites like TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, LifeHacker, or the aforementioned ones, do NOT ask you for money to write about your site/startup. It's their job to give coverage to startups that will genuinely interest their readers. (As far as I can tell the site from the email doesn't even disclose that the reviews on it have been paid for.)

While we're bootstrapped at the moment, we could afford to pay $65 for something that we felt was worthwhile. That's not the point. A review for which I have to pay is not a review though, it's an ad.

You may think it's worth paying a relatively small sum of money to get some coverage from this little-known site (according to Alexa), but I recommend that you don't encourage sites like this, which prey on entrepreneurs' desire to succeed. Overall, be mindful of such emails and propositions. Resist the urge to give into the temptation they may pose. Try to get legitimate coverage instead (more on this in future posts.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

New feature for international readers

We have an exciting new feature for our international readers. Up until this point when you clicked on the book titles or covers in our weekly updates you were brought to While this works for most people, a subscriber based in the UK, for example, may be irked by the fact that they are sent to a US site when that particular book is also available on

Luckily starting with this week's email updates, a link to the UK and Canadian Amazon stores will be provided (in addition to the US one) when a given book is available in those stores as well. (Exception made for the Kindle category for the time being.)

The examples below show the four possible combinations for a book (US is always included):

We really hope that our international subscribers enjoy this new feature, which will allow you to order books from the Amazon location that's closest to you (when it's available in said store), and still be able to fall back on when not.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New social media features

According to our statistics, at least 40% of our subscribers are members of major social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Plainly stated, anynewbookers are a social bunch, who like to share cool finds with their online friends.

Today we're introducing a few new features that will make the process of sharing interesting new books with your friends even easier.

We've added the ability to share a specific book via Twitter and Facebook, as shown below.

Furthermore, on Twitter you can share the whole weekly selection for a given category, and on Facebook you can "like" and comment on it (you can even Google Buzz it).

The comment option allows you to leave a message and see comments from other fellow anynewbookers.

The first emails sporting these new features will be available next Wednesday and Thursday. We hope you enjoy them.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday's mailing delay

Please accept our apologies for the delay regarding when our emails are being sent out this week. We normally send out emails to our subscribers on Wednesday and Thursday during working hours (EST). While Wednesday's mailing went as planned, today we experienced a substantial delay and as such emails only went out for a few genres.

The reason behind this temporary delay is that our email delivery provider (Mailchimp) launched an upgrade to their web application which overloaded their servers, and in turn knocked their service out for a while. While such an upgrade should have, arguably, been rolled out during the weekend, they made a poor timing choice that ended up impacting our own service (and thousands of others).

We contacted Mailchimp's support team and according to their latest status update, all of our remaining newsletters for this week are in their dispatch queue. They're estimating that all the emails will be sent out by the end of tomorrow. We'll make sure to check that this has happened, and apologize in advance if our emails reach your inbox at a time that's different from when you've come to expect them.

We'll keep a close eye on Mailchimp's service, which we selected from the get-go for being one of the best in the industry. If their overall reliability was to become questionable, we'd promptly switch to a different provider to bring you the best service possible.

While this incident was entirely beyond our control, we take full responsibility for the delay and extend our sincere apologies once again for it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How I got feedback from 200 people for just $17

Many entrepreneurs are familiar with Amazon Mechanical Turk, a service where real people perform small tasks for equally small pay. Being located in Canada, I’m unable to use the service directly (as it’s only open directly to US users). Thankfully there is a startup called PickFu, which enables startups worldwide to ask a simple A/B question through the Amazon Mechanical Turk API.

For $17 you can get 200 people to take a look at your site, and reply to one question with a single line comment. This is the question I posed:
We recently launched, a free new book notification service. Based on your first impression, would you sign up for it?
The possible answers were “Yes” and “No”. As well each participant was required to leave a comment briefly explaining what motivated their choice.

Why I think this is great

$17 is very little to pay for a service that enables you to receive first impressions from people who visited your site for the first time ever. Moreover, you get detailed statistics about who voted for what based on their gender, education, income, et cetera. In my case, a few people even signed up for the service (albeit not a high percentage of those who answered that they would do so).

Limits of the method

Before you run out and use this site for all your feedback needs, please note that there are a few limits to this approach:

  • Mechanical Turk users are not the general population, and they are paid to visit your site. Depending on your niche, these paid visitors may be quite different from organic traffic.
  • Some people will not even visit your site (if such is the case, this will often be clear by their comments).
  • Some users will not take the task seriously and post inane comments.
  • Users may have a tendency to click on the first answer just to get through the task as quickly as possible. Posing two questions with inverted answers may help counteract this. Update: PickFu takes care of this (see comment by John Li).
  • Some users may tell you whatever you want to hear (after all you are paying them, even if it’s indirectly through PickFu).

I’m not giving too much weight to the actual outcome (which is almost equally split in my case, anyhow), but am instead focusing on the few insightful comments I received (plus some details that stick out in the demographic section).

Practical outcome for Any New Books?

I’m happy that I did this little “experiment” (technically it's still running). Despite its limitations and a few unpleasant comments, I learned something about my service through it.

On the sign up form used on Any New Books?, I asked users whether or not they had a Kindle reader. The motivation behind this question was that at some point in the future I may offer Kindle ebook listings in the weekly selection (of new titles) for those who own a Kindle.

Rather surprisingly however, a commenter thought that our whole service was strictly for Kindle users. This comment - coupled with the fact that some users don’t know what a Kindle is - made me realize that the sign up form was more complex than it needed to be. As such I decided to A/B test the sign up page both with and without the Kindle question (note, I didn’t test this point through PickFu). The results were very convincing, so I opted to remove the Kindle question (after all, I can always ask active subscribers what format of ebooks they read at a later stage).

Other people seemed to have a problem with understanding the value offered by the service, when a combination of Google and/or Amazon could also help you discover new books. This tells me that perhaps I should add a F.A.Q. explaining how the service works, what the benefits from using it are (a verbose version of what's on the homepage), and why many early adopters absolutely love the service.

One commenter suggested reducing the number of categories, as some of them are too broad (which can lead to a “Paradox of Choice” for the person signing up). I agree with this point, and reducing the number of categories is something I plan to change as soon as I tackle other pressing points first.

Rather surprisingly there was a person who thought that our prices were too high. This remark is interesting because it brings up something I hadn’t thought about at all. There are people out there (perhaps less technically minded ones) who may assume that we are actually selling books, rather than just bringing new releases to their attention via weekly emails. (Our service is absolutely free.)

Other users questioned the overall look and trustworthiness of the site, which gives me some further points to mull over. Recently I commissioned a professionally designed logo for Any New Books?, which should help boost the site’s look. Additionally I plan to add quality testimonials to the homepage. These things should definitely help improve the general look of the site.

Some people questioned whether there are enough books released (each week) for this service to be useful (to address that point, yes, there definitely are!). Perhaps I should highlight (on the site itself) that every week our team sorts through thousands of books to hand-select the hottest new releases.

Demographic details (or Know Thy Customer)

From the demographic data below (A is Yes, B is No), I noticed a correlation between higher education and interest in the service (not surprising). As well female visitors seemed to be more interested in the service than males. Also, younger crowds were stereotypically less interested in the service (and, according to their comments, in reading books in general). People with incomes between $30-60K were by far the biggest supporters of the service.


I'm taking this test's results with a grain of salt. The comments I received were a neat snapshot into the minds of 200 (sort of) random people, but I don't consider them to be a representative sample of all the potential users that Any New Books? may bring in. Still, I have to say that for a mere $17, the insight I received was money well spent, making this experiment a successful one for sure.