Analyzing the Social E-book

If there’s one area where many of us don’t want an infiltration of social media, it’s our books. After all, the constant barrage of tweets and status updates means that an ever-present social smog already floats over much of our daily media lives; books provide what’s perhaps the last refuge from such an onslaught within the broader media landscape.

But like it or not, the smog is drifting, and I have no doubt it will eventually float over the solitary paradise we call the book.

In fact, it’s already happening. Today’s big e-book platforms already have small social elements — such as underlined passages in Kindle that show us popular sections — and Barnes & Noble’s recent deal with Blackboard will likely mean student-based sharing and collaboration around e-books.

That’s just the start. Some companies are looking to push social reading even further, such as Copia and BookGlutton. Copia’s platform, currently in beta, allows for social layers around the book-buying and e-reading experience. This includes the creation of your own page within the Copia community, the ability to make and see recommendations around books in your library, and the ability to follow others who align with your own reading tastes, as well as see their comments and what they’re currently reading.

BookGlutton is a browser-based e-book social platform that takes the social aspect inside the book itself, allowing readers to not only make their own annotations and see those from friends and like-minded readers, but also allows for in-book chats at specific spots within the book.

I envision even more could be done with social books: multimedia annotations from your own social network, crowdsourced wikis linked within the book (to provide context and information around book elements), and in-book, location-based information about current and past readers of the books and their social commenting and interaction.

There are, however, some challenges to a wider rollout of social reading:

  • Social books will need to be cross-platform. The current social elements for e-books are largely based on proprietary efforts. Cross-platform availability (and by this I mean sharing annotations or other social interaction in-book between, say, a Kindle and iBook version) is needed to allow friend and interest-based social reading to really take off.
  • Older demographics will be a hard sell. Older readers are the biggest reading market today, but many will likely reject social reading, at least initially. However, just like we’ve seen the “graying” of social networks like Facebook, so too will we see a similar acceptance of social books, particularly if community aspects (such as, say, an book club in-book commenting and discussion capability) are well done and demonstrate real value.
  • Well-done social in-book features will take time. Much like the initial reviews for social TV overlays had many of us going “meh,” social reading will see a mix of good and bad implementations. Like any new experience, the challenge will be not soiling the image of social reading with bad early iterations.

Many will come to see value in the social book. Others will scoff, but there’s no doubt a truly social book is on its way. It will just take time. Let’s just hope that when it’s here, we can turn off the Wi-Fi or 3G when we want the smog to clear.

Related Research: iPad Pushes Big Authors Into Enhanced E-books

Question of the week

Do you think adding social media to e-books will make them more valuable or just distracting?