Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Social Reading featuring Kobo, Zola, and More.

Despite being a mostly solitary act, one look at the internet will show you just how social reading has become. We used to rely on organizing book clubs or hoping people at work happened to read the same books we had, but now, we can just hop on Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook and find hundreds of people talking about whatever book we want to talk about. Sometimes we can even connect with the author of the book themselves.

A few websites saw the potential for creating a community of readers, one that connects readers all over the world through their love of books. Of those few, GoodReads ended up the most popular (though I’m personally a LibraryThing user, with LibraryThing focused a little more on organizing and managing your library than on fostering a community) and many people began to use it as their primary place to find book suggestions. But its recent purchase by Amazon concerned a lot of its users. Some even deleted their accounts and are now looking for a new online reading community. Here are some options.

LibraryThing is a great alternative, especially if you have any interest in the statistics and data around reading and libraries, including your own. It has an early readers program that gives you access to Advance Reader Copies, it has discussion groups, and you can follow and friend other people and libraries. (If you do sign up, make sure to check out their LegacyLibraries project which catalogs the libraries of famous people, finally answering the question that had been bugging you all these years, How many books in common do I have with Tupac Shakur?) It also offers suggestions based on the books you have in your library and connects you to other libraries that share your books.

Finding a way to provide our customers with ebooks has also connected us with two other ways to read socially and become a part of a reading community. First, Kobo’s (both on the devices and with its app) Reading Life and Pulse functions allow you to see what other people are saying and sharing about the book you’re reading and join them in a conversation. You can even share your reading activity on Facebook from the comments you’ve made, to passages you’ve highlighted, to how fast and how much you’ve been reading. If you’re already reading Kobo ebooks, you can join this community.

Second, and closer to GoodReads is Zola Books. Less focused on reviews, Zola looks to connect readers with authors, publishers, bookstores, and other curators of books, while providing their own readerly content, like interviews and themed lists. By following authors (or bookstores like yours truly) you can see their book lists, recommendations, events, videos, news, and feeds from other social media. You can also message your followers and “star” activity in your news feed. Zola Books is also an eBooks store that allows you to support your local bookstore by “pledging” to it. When you pledge to a bookstore, that store receives a portion of the profits from all the ebooks you buy. Right now their app is only available for iPads and iPhones, but they’re five Zola Exclusive books (Autumn Leaves, Life After Favre, The Chemical Marriage, Making Mavericks, The New Hunger (a prequel to the movie Warm Bodies) are available on all devices, including the Kindle. Over time they will be adding more Zola exclusives (including some big announcements coming this fall) and developing their app to run on a wide variety of devices.  But even if your not looking to buy eBooks, Zola will offer you a cool new reading community.

If I was made of time, I’d also research and write up Bookish and Riffle, both newish reading social media sites, looking to connect readers and introduce them to new books and authors.

Of course, for all of its best intentions and technological innovations, I still don’t think the Internet has created a social reading community better than what you can find at indie bookstores. Just about everything those sites try to create already happens here. You can meet your favorite authors, see book lists, get recommendations and have conversations with other passionate readers. But even as these sites continue to improve and continue to provide better approximations of the bookstore experience and new experiences impossible in physical stores, the chance to get out of your house and off of your screen for a little while and enjoy books and reading as a member of something truly human, can never be replaced.

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