Today, Product Hunt rolled out a new books section, which will allow its community to discover new books, form a reading club, and host author AMAs. The challenge it faces is how Product Hunt's large community, which skews toward an interest in tech, will translate into literary taste-making. And moreover, the thing that's great about Product Hunt is that it helps its readers find new and unexpected things. But initially, at least, much of what its books section has embraced seems to reinforce old stereotypes about the tech community. So how did we get here?
Erik Torenberg, one of the Product Hunt founding team members, saw that the community was already interested in books, and as an avid reader himself believed that should be the next new section for the site (Product Hunt also launched a video game section recently). "Social recommendations work for me – I want to know what my friends are reading," Torenberg said. "What Product Hunt does is really good discovery based on friends and products you trust. It brings the makers and audience together."
Product Hunt for tech only allows 2% of its users to post and comment, which keeps the community more civil than say, Reddit. For the book launch, people already approved to comment on the tech site will be able to comment on books, and they'll have a more relaxed approached to commenting privileges (ask and ye shall receive, o fans of Kevin Roose, yearning to ask him questions).
Torenberg believes that the AMAs will attract an author's existing fanbase to sign up, rather than just having the current Product Hunt community control the book section. "We're really doubling down on AMAs. We want to have three to four really awesome interviews that will drive traffic back to us. Maybe you don't know what Product Hunt is, but you know the author and want to talk to the author."
It sounds great, but the initial batch of authors don't seem like the the kind that will pull in new users, or introduce new ideas to the existing base. Overall, the list of authors skew sort of tech bro-y: A poetry book by the founder of Genius, Tucker Max's former publicist, Robert Scoble, Tony Robbins, and pickup artist Neil Strauss. Of 45 scheduled upcoming author interviews, only 13 are women. However, Product Hunt will be adding more interviews after launch, and Torenberg explained that the kind of authors who were willing to sign on for a weird startup site before it launched tended to be more tech-minded.
In a tweet, Torenberg talked about wanting to include author Ta-Nehisi Coates and noted that tech people need to read his stuff the most. I agree with that completely – people working on technology that will impact the world and help people's lives would definitely benefit by reading Coates' book on race in America. If Product Hunt suggested books to tech founders that would expand their thinking about, for example, workplace diversity, then it's done something good. And yet, while Product Hunt wants to get Ta-Nehisi Coates, what it has instead is an interview with Tucker Max booked for September.
I asked Torenberg who his dream get for an AMA would be. "Jonathan Franzen!" he immediately answered. "He hates tech!"