From Commentary to Conversation: The Evolution of Social Reading

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The key to the success of social reading is the ability to restrict the conversation to only your chosen network of people.

By Matteo Berlucchi, CEO, Anobii

Matteo Berlucci, CEO, Anobii

The adjective “social” attached to “reading” creates an interesting oxymoron. Reading is one of the most solitary and introspective activities people do and the idea of “social reading” is definitely quite unnatural.

The rush to “socialize” everything we do online will certainly not bypass books and reading. If people are happy to socialize what bars they are in, what songs they are listening to, who they are with, etc., why would they not socialize what they are reading? E-books potentially present the ideal platform for this as the traditional paper book is not very good at interfacing with Facebook and Twitter.

E-books, Why Bother?

The way e-books are being used today is rather limited considering how much could be done with them. The key benefits of e-books compared to paper books (p-books) are primarily linked to the form factor: faster to get the book you want, no weight to carry around on planes, font scaling etc. All the other features are arguably the same: bookmarks, highlights and notes, page turning (!). I know I am oversimplifying but the point is that e-books today are not much better than the p-book. If you are at home sitting on your couch and want to read a novel, it makes almost no difference reading it on an e-reader or on the p-book. Unless you are a regular traveler or a commuter, e-books are not actually that attractive.

For e-books to really take off, they need to offer something more exciting than p-books, something that would make us all think that if we were to read the next novel on a p-book we would be missing out on something valuable to us.

Conversation is King

Where the future of e-books interests me in particular is in the development of social reading, the ability to facilitate conversations around the e-books we are reading and using e-books as discussion platforms. The key to the success of this however is the ability to restrict the conversation to only your chosen network of people. Reading the comment of a total stranger on a certain paragraph in a book is not only uninteresting but also annoying!

At the moment, the e-reading platforms available don’t know anything about your personal network, as they only collect readers’ reviews, notes and highlights without knowing anything about the social graph of the reader. Being able to leave a comment on a certain passage just for your partner or friend changes the dynamics of adding notes to e-books altogether as it elevates them to the status of “conversations.” Imagine being able to restrict the notes and highlights to the members of your book club: this would give an extra dimension to the e-book which would be impossible to access with a p-book. This is a real and valuable differentiation.

While the act of reading is a solitary experience, the emotions, thoughts and ideas prompted by reading a book are totally social. We all love to share them with our friends at the next opportunity. Books are the perfect currency for conversations.

Recommendations, Book Tables and Wikipedia

This leads on to the opportunities generated by using the social dynamics around books to aid discovery. The primary discovery channel for books is recommendation by trusted sources. These range from your local bookseller, to your friend, from your favourite magazine to your colleague at work. Inevitably, we discover new books because someone points them out to us and we sufficiently trust their expertise to value their recommendation.

A good, well-stocked book store is always a great place to discover new books. The expert bookseller that creates a table with interesting books around a particular topic is using a very powerful method for enticing book buyers to pick up their next read. So, why not “package” this and allow readers to do that themselves online?

Imagine therefore a Wikipedia style service which allows any reader to create a topic, add a collection of relevant books to that topic and let everyone else add more relevant books while also ranking the most interesting ones in order of preference. This “reader-generated” topic system could grow to offer multiple ways to discover books by simply letting people browse these “virtual tables.”

Anobii, Together We Find Better Books

What I have described above is what our team has been developing for the past nine months following the acquisition of Anobii (the name comes from the Latin for bookworm) one year ago. The founding team of Anobii developed a thriving social network for book lovers where readers could socialize their own libraries and enable them to discover interesting books by exploring other people’s reading histories.

The new Anobii now incorporates a vast reader-generated topic system for book browsing, a Wikipedia-type approach to harness the collective knowledge and passion of book-loving friends, a family of cloud-based ereading apps for Apple and Android devices which supports the private conversation system and, last but not least, the ecommerce infrastructure to allow our users to buy e-books directly from us.

Anobii 2.0 therefore promises readers the combined benefits of social reading and a powerful voice in book discovery.

Matteo Berlucchi will be speaking at the Frankfurt Book Fair, first as part of the Tools of Change Frankfurt Conference 2011 on Tuesday 11th October, he will then be interviewed on the stage in Hall 8.0 N988, October 12 at 11:30 a.m., as part of the “Digital Leaders in Conversation” program of the Frankfurt Academy SPARKS program. Berlucchi can be reached via Twitter @matteoberlucchi.

SURVEY: Are You a Social or Asocial Reader?

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.