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.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Thank you for blogging about Any New Books?

I thought I'd take a moment to share some links to the blogs of the fine folks who've enthusiastically blogged about Any New Books? over the past couple of weeks.

" is exactly what i've been wanting for years — notification of all books published in a genre in the last week."
Kent Beck on Twitter

"I think this is a great service for active readers who currently want to find new books."

"Finding out about new books? Yes, please! So go and subscribe. It’s free so why not?!"
The Bookette

"Currently, my means of learning about new releases consists of either me playing on Goodreads, Amazon, or some other bookstore's online site. Well, not any more. Any New Books? is a really creative site that I was very excited to learn about."
The Neverending Shelf

"It looks like a great idea."

"This is just what I've been looking for! [...] Yes, you guessed it, I was very happy!"
Daisy Chain Book Reviews

"Any New Books?, you see, is a service that delivers a list of recent releases right to your inbox. You simply sign up … select your categories … confirm your subscription … and away you go. Even better? The books are handpicked by a team of passionate readers."
The Bibliophile's Adventurers Club

"Is reading one of your hobbies? Would you like to stay in touch with newly released books that belong to your favorite genres? If yes, then one of the easiest ways to do so is through “Any New Books”."

"A FANTASTIC new book notification service for all of you book lovers out there."
Lori's Reading Corner

"This is a great notification book service. I am always looking at different sites to see what books are coming out when and this is great. You will have to see for yourself and I am sure you will like it as much as I do."
The World of Book Reviews

"Any new books? is a great new service that will send you email updates of new book releases in categories you select."
The Great Geek Manual

"I can across this really neat website yesterday and I wanted to share it. I originally saw it on Lori's Reading Corner, so I want to thank her for posting about it."
Beck's Book Picks

"[...] this was such a cool idea, I decided to sign up right away. Today I got my first alert list and I was really pleased at the layout and info included in the newsletters."
A Writer's Dream

"Just found this site. Any New Books? Just sign up, state your genre preferences from 42 categories and receive once a week emails on new releases. How cool is that?"
Laurie Green on Facebook

Other blog posts about us:

Thank you everyone for your terrific support and help in spreading the word so far. Have you blogged about us? Let us know.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Welcome to our blog

Welcome to the blog of 'Any new books?'. We'll use this space to cover announcements related to the site, chat about what goes on behind the scenes of our operation, life as a startup, plus other interesting content related to books and relevant industry news.

To stay in touch with this blog, please consider subscribing to its feed.

Oh, and if you haven't done so already, please sign up for our new book notification service for free. You can select from 42 genres to ensure that you only get updates for books that really interest you.