Indigo’s RECO app: Connecting Book Lovers Everywhere Through the Magic of Words

Corporate Startup of the Week

We’ve all been there. Gotten super excited while reading the reviews for a book, only to make the purchase and realize (about a chapter or two in), that those reviewers were clueless! What was all the hype about? Did anyone really even read this thing?

It happens all the time because people’s taste in books, like so many things (e.g. food, movies, music, etc.), are deeply personal. It would stand to reason that only a subset of like-minded individuals could provide any truly useful feedback on finding that next life-altering, can’t-put-it-down piece of literature.  

That’s the mission behind the RECO app: To help people discover, share, capture, and discuss books without all the extra noise. The end result? An online community of book-lovers focused exclusively on finding and sharing great literature.

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Where It All Began

Indigo is a Canadian based retailer of books, gifts, and electronics. The company operates under several banners including Indigospirit, Indigo Books & Music, and Coles (among others). You can also find them online as “Indigo.ca”.

As one of the leading book retailers in Canada, Indigo was in a unique position to understand the importance of recommendations when it came to purchasing literature.

“Everyone agrees the best book recommendations come from friends, but we all spend too much time reading reviews from strangers and trusting algorithms to tell us what to read next, often with mixed results. RECO solves this problem by bringing personal book recommendations from people you trust right to your mobile device.”
Krishna Nikhil, EVP of Print & Strategy at Indigo, and co-founder of RECO

Under the core belief that books are one of our most powerful sources of entertainment, inspiration, and education; Indigo was committed to continuously helping customers find their next great read in the most efficient way possible.

Learning from Previous Successes

The idea for creating RECO wouldn’t be the first time Indigo dabbled in the world of tech and apps. They already had a home run under their belt with the success of Kobo, an e-reading business with millions of users worldwide. The idea caught the eye of Rakuten, an online Japanese company who promptly bought Kobo for $315 million only 23 months after it was launched. 

The success of Kobo highlighted the need for continued research and investment into innovative initiatives for their readers. And so it was that the idea and support for RECO continued to grow. 

For the RECO app, Indigo decided to team up with a Toronto-based Retail Innovation Lab known as “Kinetic Café”. This new venture would be Indigo’s first project since the launch of Kobo in 2009.

So what is RECO?

The concept is quite simple: Just “great books from real people”, with none of those impersonal, algorithm-driven (and often disappointing) book suggestions. Instead, RECO book recommendations are carefully curated and shared by a community of friends, peers, and experts.

“RECO is a platform for everyone to share the joy of reading and nothing beats getting a recommendation from someone whose opinion I trust.”
Heather Reisman, RECO co-founder and Indigo CEO

Aside from having access to an online community of readers, RECO users also have access to a growing group of influencers in the world of literature. At the top of the list are renowned authors like Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Eleanor Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), and public speaker Neil Pasricha (The Happiness Equation).

How does RECO work?

The app itself offers 4 main features:

  • Share: Upload your own reviews and book lists for other users to subscribe to. 
  • Discover: Find books based on your own personal profile (created when you sign-up).  
  • Capture: Keep track of the books you want to read next by creating lists. 
  • Discuss: Talk about the books you love with other readers. 

Although the app is free, each RECO recommendation comes with a link that allows users to purchase the books they want. In turn, each purchase generates a commission that goes back to RECO.

The system is quite elegant and a great example of a win/win situation for everyone involved:

  • The reader gets easy access to new books
  • RECO gets a commission and
  • Indigo makes additional sales

What’s next for Indigo and RECO?

The book market is full of cautionary tales about how companies have lost millions because they weren’t able to innovate and keep up with consumer preferences. It’s refreshing and quite inspiring to see how Indigo is staying on top by finding new ways to connect with customers and using technology to strengthen their business models. 

An important part of the whole innovation process is learning that while not all concepts will be wildly successful, even the ones that don’t hit the desired KPI’s can provide invaluable data for future endeavors. This might be the case for the RECO app, which is currently offline for maintenance with no news yet about any further developments. 

As for Indigo, they seem to have acquired a taste for innovation that doesn’t seem likely to stop anytime soon. They’ve already expressed a renewed interest in incubating tech startups that are compatible with their vision. They’re definitely a company to watch in the years to come!

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Ritza Suazo

Digital Marketing Intern