Fans of marginalia: Take note. Subtext is a startup that is attempting to bring those incisive notes (or sophomoric jokes) you used to leave in the margins of textbooks or your favorite fiction online — and make them interactive. Subtext is bringing a new social eBook reading experience to the iPad.
If you’ve ever paid the extra cost for a fuller music listening experience, a behind-the-scenes look at the band, a DVD, etc., then you can probably get a sense of what Subtext is trying to do with reading. Except that the startup wants to offer an enhanced reading experience that, while adding neat additions and sidenotes, author commentary, and Web connectedness (for free) — doesn’t distract from the reading experience.
Essentially, this all means that Subtext is offering a reading experience on the iPad that allows users to engage in conversations with friends, community members, as well as authors and experts, even if they’re not on the same page of the text (i.e. reading at the same pace). Readers can get author, expert, and community information, contribute their own thoughts, as well as add and explore links to relevant articles, images, and multimedia content from the webernets. So, in short, Subtext is adding context to the eBook experience through social networking and web-culled content.
If you ask me (even though you didn’t), the eBook reading experience is badly in need of a way to make its reading experience deeper and richer, while avoiding becoming the vast, horizontal ocean that, say, constitutes Wikipedia. I love context when I’m reading, and if there is author commentary to be found, I’m not above scouring the Web to find it. Subtext pulls in this kind of supplementary information automatically, providing reactions, commentary, etc. that doesn’t completely detract from the actual reading. Because Lord knows we don’t need more distractions — reading a book on a subway/bus/bike/Segway is distracting enough.
What’s more, backing the startup in its endeavor is an impressive list of investors that now includes Google Ventures, Mayfield Fund, New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and Omidyar Network, which have collectively poured $3 million of seed funding into the startup in hopes that this kind of newfangled reading experience can be transformative for eBooks.
As part of its launch, the startup also announced that it is collaborating with a bunch of authors backed by well-known publishers like HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster, and more.
While the first list of books on the Subtext shelf is short (there are 18 books thus far), the list does include some well-known scribblers like Nathaniel West, Amy Stewart, Max Barry, etc., and more lists will be hitting the shelf in the near future.
For those who’ve had their curiosities piqued, Subtext’s free iPad app is available on the App Store now. Check it out.