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Spying on CoverSpy: A Conversation with the Site’s Founders

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In October 2009, after the opening of Greenlight Books, the idea for CoverSpy was hatched. Soon “a team of publishing nerds” were running around New York, chronicling the city’s public reading habits.

For a little over 3 years now, everyday this group goes incognito onto subways, through streets, and in parks and bars to get a read on the our literary thermometer. Using Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter, they deliver the results almost in real time.

I speak with two of CoverSpy’s founders about the project’s origins, who’s reading what on which subway, and the best books they’ve ever spied.

Here are some highlights, you can read the rest at Book Boroughing.

How would you describe CoverSpy at a party?
A: CoverSpy is a project where we spy what people are reading on subways and around the city and report what we see on our website. Sometimes, especially at publishing events or hanging with fellow book nerds, we mention CoverSpy and people already know about us or maybe even follow us on Tumblr, which is an awesome feeling.

You’ve been doing this for a few years now, you must see trends. What are a few you’ve noticed?
A: When a book is on the NY Times Best Seller’s List we often see it being read around the city for months following. From Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin to Stieg Larsson’s novels, they are very popular for a time and then are read less and less, replaced by the next big hit. People on the Q train love Malcolm Gladwell, people on the F train love Jonathan Lethem and are usually carrying either an NPR or Strand tote bag. There are more self-help books on the L train.

T: People love it when we post a children’s book. They love it even more when it’s an adult reading one–like Sweet Valley Twins. That got a lot of comments.

Do you have a favorite train for cover spying?
T: Everyone’s reading on the F train, so that makes it easy.

A: The covers on the L train tend to be the prettiest, most highly designed which I appreciate. But I think the G train is my favorite because of the range of books read on it. I’m often introduced to authors I never knew existed on that line more than others.

Best book you’ve ever spied?
T: It was some steamy romance novel being read by an off-duty MTA worker—can’t remember the title.Or maybe the guy who was holding one sunflower and ten pink balloons. Again, I don’t remember which book it was. Sometimes it’s the people that stand out.

A: I get a lot of joy out of spying kids reading on the subway, so pretty much put a kid in front of me with Beverly Cleary or Harry Potter and that’s my favorite.

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Written by Gabrielle

February 21, 2012 at 7:12 am

One Response

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    November 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm


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