Are books better as standalone, pristine works or as social objects to be modified and commented on by those who read them? We are about to find out. Today, Rethink Books is launching its SocialBooks software which allows publishers to turn their books into iPad apps. The apps makes it possible for readers to share their highlighted text from a book on Twitter or Facebook, along with their comments, related photos and videos. Private groups can also be created for more of a book-club feel.
The first book to become socialized in this manner will be the Bible (published by HarperCollins). In this way, the Bible could be illustrated with depictions from paintings and other art, as well as video clips from Biblical movies. Of course, people could also upload clips from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but that’s what makes social media so much fun. Even personal photos or videos could add a fascinating layer of contemporary commentary and personal interpretations to the good book.
Rethink Books is hoping the same dynamic will play out across all genres. Photos and videos are uploaded to Facebook (or YouTube for videos), meaning that readers could use media other than text to pull their friends into the books they are reading. The apps can also create a direct social channel between authors and readers with a feature that lets readers “follow” the author as he or she highlights or comments on his or her own book. This feature opens up the possibility of something akin to a Director’s Cut of a book, with an added layer of author commentary via highlighted text, notes, photos, and videos. People who download SocialBooks will also be able to follow each other and see what is on their friends’ bookshelves, and perhaps discover new books through this process.
Books are already highly social objects in the sense that what you choose to read is often influenced by what your friends or people you respect recommend. Will adding social software hooks improve that social discovery, or are these just gimmicks that will get in the way of reading?
Below is a video demo I shot with the founders of RethinkBooks Jason Ilian and Jason Johnson last November, and a bonus clip from Life of Brian.