In an industry as large as publishing, book discovery happens in different ways. Maybe you’ve heard of a book from your favorite vlogger or a good friend. Maybe it’s something TikTok’s “For You” page showed you, or maybe it’s something TBR’s librarians recommended. The possibilities are endless, both online and offline. But now a new app wants to bring all your options together under one roof.
In July, the Tertulia app launched, promising simplified book discovery. “In a world full of rich discovery services for movies, music, TV and fine art, there is, remarkably, no existing equivalent for books. And that’s what we spent on the past eighteen months working,” said Sebastian Cwilich, one of the app’s founders, in a press release.
Tertulia uses AI technology and editorial curation to bring together diverse sources and make book recommendations. The app’s name is Spanish and means “literary fairs, especially those that take place in Spanish cafes and bars”. It aims to “create the best book page on the Internet”. You can browse selected recommendations from different book websites, and if you like the book, you can buy it directly in the app. Currently, the app has 15 million titles, and there are plans to add audiobooks later this year and e-books next year.
However, the app is currently only available on iOS. But Cwilich says the web version will arrive this fall and the Android app will launch in 2023.
So far, so good. But under the hood, how does it compare to existing and established book apps? Well, I tried the app so you don’t have to.
Get started with Tertulia
After signing up, the app prompts you to select your favorite genres.
Then you can choose the “voices” you want to hear: these are authors traditionally grouped by profession or community such as journalists, poets, LGBTQ+ voices, etc.
The app has five tabs, and the first, Today, offers a personalized feed. After you sign up, the app will automatically send you recommendations and refresh these selections daily. Interestingly, this tab pulls data from Twitter book and book coverage from publications such as the new yorker. Social media book posts can also appear in this tab, such as when an author raves about a book or a media outlet mentions it in an article.
Meanwhile, the Explore tab looks like the app’s News Feed or “For You” page. This is where the books of the voices you have previously selected appear.
At the bottom of the page are more images and tweets as the app fetches data from social media. There is also a section where books mentioned by users on Instagram are displayed. Oddly, it reminds me of Bookstagram.
Once you click on any of the books on this tab, you can find Goodreads-like reviews from sites like literary center – or a post where it is recently mentioned – and book bloggers and Twitter users.
There is also a Featured on Tertulia section which shows books currently trending on Twitter.
A section is also reserved for the books mentioned on the podcasts. I can’t, for my life, figure out how it does (does the AI extract the words from the audio?) I asked Cwilich, but got no response.
On the other hand, the Trending tab splits listings by genres and looks a lot like The New York Times List of bestsellers.
Another tab is Lists, which shows your Must Read selections, things you’re currently reading, and books you’ve read.
The last tab, Profile, displays things like settings, gender preferences, orders, shipping and delivery, and more. Strangely, you cannot create a public profile on Tertulia like you can with Goodreads.
Beyond the fuzzy mix of literary discussions
Tertulia is like a social media, forum, and e-commerce store rolled into one app. Books can be purchased directly within the app, and pre-orders are even possible for books coming out in the future. When you click on a buzzing book, the app automatically redirects you to the store page, eliminating the need for external apps. Unfortunately, Tertulia does not allow cancellations, but if the book is not available, you will be refunded. They also don’t accept returns but will adjust if there is any damage or you receive the wrong book.
Since Tertulia is a start-up, it wants potential users to finance it by allowing them to become a member of the cooperative. Benefits of being a member of a co-op include free (but standard) delivery on orders, a 10% discount on all books, and an equity stake in the business. Tertulia says that for every book purchased, readers get more participation.
Co-op members also have the opportunity to weigh in on “strategic business initiatives,” such as what app features they’d like to include and how to improve reader-author relationships.
What I like about it
Unlike similar apps, Tertulia’s user interface really pops. In the Explore tab, images and tweets are presented in a visually striking way.
I am also impressed with how this application pulls data from different sources already available on the internet. For readers, it’s quite convenient as there would be no need to open Twitter and Instagram to keep track of what’s hot and what’s not in the book world. Personally, I find it valuable since I’m only interested in literary social discussions and not the daily dumpster fire.
But if you don’t want its book discovery feature, the app doubles as a reading tracker.
While the app is certainly useful in some ways, it might come as a shock because it does so many things at once. It’s also a little concerning how it pulls data from some random people on social media, especially users who haven’t consented to their tweets and/or images appearing elsewhere.
As for its membership program, equity participation is 10% for members of the cooperative, with members benefiting only if they collectively purchase books worth $100 million. And there is obviously still a long way to go for that.
Apart from that, there may be other hidden charges in their annual subscription. At the moment they are only canceled during the introductory free trial period. This means that they could increase the price of the subscription at the time of renewal.
What is perhaps a little worrying is that the app is mostly powered by an AI algorithm. It pulls information from social media and other online activity, and as a privacy freak, it feels a bit intrusive. I would like to know how they store my data and if they share it with third parties.
Tertulia can be a great book discovery tool. It gives readers a variety of choices and makes it easy to find their next great read.
But still, nothing beats human contact, and the element present in word of mouth and other interactions that happen offline. Along with getting book recommendations, these interactions allow you to develop connections with like-minded people. I myself have made a lot of friends just by attending book signings, the contemporary equivalent of the literary salons of yesteryear. And that’s something apps like this can’t replicate.
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