Being given the possibility to find a book one wants to read is a pleasure, and an opportunity, that we do not enjoy in many parts of the world. This possibility comes with the availability of information. And information is often scarce outside North America and Western Europe. As we ponder today how some of us in the world have moved from lazily browsing through a bookstore’s shelves, to commercial websites identifying our tastes, in other parts of the world — take Lebanon, a historical capital of publishing in the region — our modes of discovery of books is most the time either pragmatic (the title I was told to read for a purpose), or straightforward (people around me told me a bout this specific title, and this is the one I ask my local bookstore to order when he does not have it). What we miss, and readers and the West take for granted, is the possibility to discover. While the challenge faced in the West is managing too much information, the challenge we face in the East is producing quality information.
The web has the possibility to offer many non traditional ways to connect and disocver, our identification as consumers, and the identifcation of our tastes exposes us to more books we might like, but deprives us from true discovery. It keeps us so well contained within the limits of pre-identified tastes, that we are no longer aware of them, and are less open to new things. From this perspective, the future of finding books has to take into consideration the need for true discovery, free, but well guided. It should follow the model of the physical independent bookstore, rather than the physical hyper-bookstore.