Publishing Talks: Interview with Ben Fox of Shepherd.com

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Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology, mostly talking about the future of publishing, books, and culture. I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the years talking with people in the book industry about how publishing has evolved in the context of technology, culture, and economics.

Some time back, this series broadened to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. In an effort to document the literary world, I’ve talked with a variety of editors, publishers, booksellers, innovators, and leaders in publishing from the past into the present.

These conversations have been inspirational to me in many ways. I have gotten to speak with visionaries and entrepreneurs, as well as editors and publishers who have influenced and changed contemporary literature and culture. I’ve also had the opportunity to speak with a number of friends and colleagues I have met over the decades I have been in the book business.

Everyone in the book business recognizes the challenge of matching books to readers and vice versa. Search and discovery are the defining issues of this era of vast abundance and creativity in books and all media. There have been any number of efforts to address these challenges that go far beyond what any individual author or publisher can accomplish. One new effort that is trying to address the problem of online book discovery is called Shepherd. Ben Fox is the founder of this book search and recommendation website which he describes as being “Like browsing the best bookstore in the world.”

Like so many others who have become involved with the book publishing industry, he was motivated by a love of books and a desire to replicate the experience of browsing in a physical bookstore online. It’s a simple enough proposition in theory, but in practice, we know that nothing is easy for start ups, and especially so for start ups in the book industry.

I learned about Shepherd from an author I have worked with who has become a friend. Since I believe we need to foster creativity and innovation in every aspect of the book delivery chain, I wanted to talk to Ben to find out more about what he is doing, how he is doing it, and how he feels he can make this effort a success.

In a fairly short time, Shepherd has built a robust offering, with book lists of all kinds, and direct connections on the site to a large number of active authors.

Visit Shepherd.com and see for yourself what Ben Fox is doing. It would be interesting to me to hear what you think of it. Does Shepherd help you find books you might not otherwise have discovered? Does meeting authors online make a difference to your sense of their books and your willingness to buy and read them? Does Shepherd succeed in creating an online book browsing experience that matches what a great bookstore can do?

“I love walking around the bookstore and browsing until something grabs my attention. I want to bring that experience online. I want to help readers bump into books they would otherwise not find. And, help them follow their curiosity to new places.

And, I want to help authors meet more readers. Authors illuminate our world, take us on faraway journeys, and entertain us. There is a growing trend that authors have to become their own marketing team. That concerns me because it takes time away from writing and is very hard to do. One of my long-term goals is to help authors market themselves and give them more time to write.” — Ben Fox

It’s pretty obvious that retail shopping is changing. As readers, we need to figure out new ways to discover books, and for writers and publishers, it is crucial that there are a variety of different ways for us to reach out to readers when we have books we want them to know about. I hope Shepherd will succeed.

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