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Less is more: Why the ‘right book’ beats the ‘most books’ every time

Simon Dunlop, founder and CEO of social ereading service Bookmate explains why streaming services need to focus less on the size of their libraries and more on the actual browsing and selection process.

In his 2004 book, ‘The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less’, psychologist Barry Schwartz argued that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. For me, this point of view holds a lot of weight and is arguably something streaming services should take heed of.

We are already well on the way to having instant access to the whole body of creative content ever produced by man. Services such as Amazon, Spotify and Netflix are boasting bigger libraries than ever before, however, in the rush to provide users with more choice – it could be argued that something vital has been lost along the way.

With so much choice, picking the right book or film becomes that much harder. Streaming services also need to take into consideration the importance of discovery, for example, your favourite film may have been lent to you by a close friend and it is often these personal connections which influence your enjoyment of something.

Streaming services need to appreciate that a human element is required if they are to offer an attractive service – library size alone is not enough.

As it takes longer to read a book than it does to watch a film or listen to an album, it is essential that ereading services nail curation. Services such as Amazon Prime, which offers 500,000 books and Scribd which has one million books are all very well, however, in reality the average reader will only read a total of 300 books in their lifetime. Furthermore, with it taking eight hours to read an average book, readers cannot afford to make the wrong choice when selecting their next book.

For many individuals, the sheer choice offered by ereading services discourages them from picking up an ebook in the first place. It seems that rather than spending a large portion of time browsing countless titles on an online platform, many readers instead opt for a paper book.

Some highlight self-publishing as contributing factor to the choice overload faced by many readers. Self-publishing is generally viewed as good thing – due to it giving authors who may not necessarily have to chance to sign with a publisher the chance to have their work read and enjoyed. However, with almost 400,000 self-published titles being produced a year, an effective means to browse this content is currently lacking.

To provide users of ebook streaming services with a joyful browsing experience, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on the social aspect offered by these services. Reading a book is often a social experience, therefore, online services need to reflect this in their offering.

This may take the form of a chat function, integrated social networks or a more personalised recommendation system. Enabling communication between readers, curators and authors will heighten the reading experience and lend it a more human touch. Much like belonging to a book club, ereading services need to provide users with added social value.

From our own platform, we have found that when selecting a book, users often eschew search and instead prefer to opt for more personalised discovery methods. For example, since bringing in features such as similar books and user created bookshelves, Bookmate has seen a 15 per cent drop in the amount of users searching for books. Currently, more than two-thirds of our users prefer to find books through the social discovery options offered on the platform rather than the traditional search function.

Following the less is more approach to its logical conclusion, actively limiting choice is also something streaming services should consider.

Scarcity, whether real or artificial, works in businesses as varied as food manufacturing and online video-on-demand. For example the seasonal availability of Cadbury’s Crème Eggs and the revolving choice of Netflix prove that consumers are receptive to limited choice.

In order to fully capture the attention of readers, ereading services need to provide an authentic experience, something which can be equated to the real life experience of selecting and enjoying a book.

Variety is a great thing but having too many options can also lead to choice paralysis. Streaming services need to focus on the browsing experience

Users need to be able to easily find content which suits their tastes and obviously the more titles that are listed, the harder this choice becomes. In any art form, whether its music, film or literature – quality beats quantity.