iDreamBooks is a site that aggregates reviews of books. The goal of the site is right in the tagline: Never read a crappy book again!
Founded in 2012 by Rahul Simha, Vish Chapalamadugu and Mohit Aggarwal, iDreamBooks moved to San Francisco as part of 500 Startups. Patrick Lee, co-founder of Rotten Tomatoes, was an early investor, which works out since the site is like the “Rotten Tomatoes for books.”
CEO Rahul Simha said he met Lee through a friend of a friend.
“We’re fans of Rotten Tomatoes and we think it’s a great rating system,” he said. “It’s a pretty trustworthy rating […] being book readers ourselves we wanted something similar for books.”
Simha said the name iDreamBooks came about because they were looking for something “quirky and memorable.”
Now with a team of five, iDreamBooks is looking to expand its offerings. They already have a partnership with the Sony e-bookstore, which launched iDreamBooks’ rating system in April 2013.
How iDreamBooks Works
All books on iDreamBooks are categorized by genre. But users can narrow it down, by choosing to search for books based on publication date, books featured on major media, whether or not a book has a lot of ratings and reviews, book reviews based on publications or other users, and even book sub-genres.
iDreamBooks also has three major review lists: New York Times reviews, NPR reviews, and IndieReader curated self-published reviews. For the NY Times and NPR reviews, Simha said they pull reviews through search indexing. But for IndieReader, they work directly with founder and president Amy Edelman.
Edelman had a similar idea with a project called Rabble Reads. She wanted to help out independent authors, Simha said, so she ended up working with iDreamBooks. Because of Edelman’s list of sources and review sites, Simha said iDreamBooks have “ratings for a good chunk of the independent books.”
“We have a lot of the current books,” he said. “If you search for a book, if it’s an independent book you’ll find it. It’s a massive catalogue like Amazon has, or what Barnes & Noble has.”
Over 300,000 books are catalogued on the site, and most of the books are from the U.S. and Canada.
“We’d love to expand but for now we’re just focused on US and Canada,” Simha said. “We’re a startup so we have to focus on a few things and do it well.”
New books are added on a regular basis.
“When the user searches for a book [we don’t have] we add it,” he said. “So that way the user doesn’t leave disappointed.”
Currently about 90 percent of the books on the site have ratings, Simha said. Books have two separate ratings: professional and user-generated. Both ratings are stand alone, he said, shown with different icons. If no professional review is available, then the site will not show a professional rating.
Professional reviews also have a weighted average, Simha said. To have a professional rating, the book must have either 5 reviews from publications or 10 reviews from bloggers.
Getting More Reviews
Simha said iDreamBooks is always looking to add more reviews. Publications and bloggers can apply to have their reviews included, so long as they provide reviews at least 150 words long. Publications must be at least one year old with editorial oversight, and bloggers should have sites focused on book reviews, he said. It’s better if the blog has been doing book reviews for more than one year and that they are consistent, and not just a giveaway site, he said. The time for processing a review application can vary, he said.
“Our goal is to create a trustworthy rating people can rely on,” Simha said.
Once accepted, critics can choose to upload their reviews to the site directly, though Simha said only 10-20 critics are actively adding reviews right now.
Because most publications in the iDreamBooks system review non-fiction reviews, Simha said they look especially for bloggers who review fiction books. iDreamBooks has between 5-6,000 sources for reviews, he said. About 2,000 of those sources are publications, and the rest are bloggers, he said. Some of the bigger publications include New York Times, NPR, Wall Street Journal, Kirkus Reviews, The Guardian, The Economist, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Times, and Dear Author.
Solving the Problem of Fake Reviews
A few sites sell fake reviews, Simha said, which makes it hard for a user to make a decision to purchase a book. Aggregating quality reviews is one of the biggest benefits of the iDreamBooks rating system, he said.
“Our goal is to create an authentic and trustworthy rating system so users don’t have to worry about fake reviews,” Simha said. “They can just come on to the site and when they see a rating they can trust it and make a decision based on that.”
Though iDreamBooks is a startup itself, it has an API that is friendly to other startups. Though Sony is the biggest user of the API, Simha said the subscription site eReatah, as well as several book apps, also use iDreamBooks’ API. That way, iDreamBooks reviews appear on those sites and apps.
“There’s a lot of activity in book startups, and a lot of them don’t have reviews or they want reviews, so we provide it to them,” Simha said.
“For small startups, there’s a certain API threshold that we let them use it for free, as long as we get some attribution,” Simha said. “And then for bigger ones like Sony, there’s a small fee involved.”
Users who aren’t critics can also log in to iDreamBooks, Simha said.
“Right now they can add books to their reading lists, and create book list,” he said. “They can like a book, and we plan on rolling out some more features that are focused on users.”
In the future iDreamBooks plans to add more engagement features, Simha said. “For example if you want all reviews from NPR, you can get it delivered to your inbox.”
He said you will also be able to follow the reviews on the site, and select other genres to follow and subscribe to. The feature is somewhat similar to one in Zola Books, which allows users to follow curators who share their reviews.
iDreamBooks for Libraries
“We’ve had some libraries reach out to us expressing interest in customizing the site for their library,” Simha said. “It’s a [subscription] product we’re experimenting with.”
Basically, every book page would link in to a library catalogue, he said. Local public libraries have sites they recommend readers visit to find more books. With iDreamBooks, a library would have custom links, he said.
“The search page would link to the corresponding book on their library catalogue,” he said.
A demo of the service is available on the site.