Many community-based reading apps rely on the readers to get the conversation started. That’s great if your Facebook friends are sparkling literary conversationalists who also happen to be reading the same book as you but doesn’t work so well otherwise.
Taking the idea that book-based conversations are best prompted by the people who actually have something smart to say about the books, a startup, Subtext, is today releasing a free iPad app that collaborates with big-six publishers and authors to add commentary to and start discussions around books like A Game of Thrones and The Magician King.
Subtext is working with Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Byliner, Algonquin and other publishers and offering enhanced titles like A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, The Chairs Are Where the People Go by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti, and The Magician King by Lev Grossman. The company’s CEO is Andrew Goldman, who sold video game developer Pandemic Studios to EA in 2007.
Subtext received $3 million in seed funding from Google Ventures, Mayfield, New Enterprise Associates and Omidyar. The platform is integrated with Google Books, but readers can add any e-books in the Adobe DRM format to their Subtext shelves—i.e., not Kindle books. “We’re the first app that does technically support open reading,” Rachel Thomas, VP of marketing and strategic partnerships, told me. “We have people now reading a dozen editions of A Game of Thrones and we’ve figured out how they can have conversations around different sources and editions.”
Subtext worked directly with publishers and authors to add enhanced content to their books. Amy Stewart, author of Algonquin’s Wicked Bugs, added notes and video links to show some of the grossest things that bugs do in action. George R.R. Martin added hundreds of notes about life in Westeros. Frances Mayes added updates about all of her characters in Under the Tuscan Sun and wrote about how Tuscany has changed since the book was published. Lisa See included scenes from the upcoming movie version of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Subtext secured the assets from Searchlight). Most authors have “overdelivered,” Rachel Thomas, VP of marketing and strategic partnerships, told me. They found they had a lot to say at the passage level and the sentence level and could also answer many of the questions that they are repeatedly asked by readers.
. . . .
Users earn points for participating, and use them to unlock the author and expert content in the text. They can download free previews of the books, with enhanced content, from Google; once they buy the books, they use their points to subscribe to the additional content. (Content created by other readers is free.) “Paying” with points for extra content is a way to accustom users to the fact that there may eventually be a transaction around some of the enhancements, Thomas said. “Everyone’s got a book they’d pay extra for the notes for. We believe there is a market for this,” she said.
Link to the rest at Paid Content
Passive Guy is reasonably social, but, aside from those who comment here, hasn’t found a lot of useful sociability around books online.
When he first dived into looking at indie publishing, before he helped Mrs. PG regain control of her backlist, he jumped into the YA world on GoodReads. Then he jumped back out, remembering why that time in his life was so difficult, although he still enjoys good YA novels.
He understands GoodReads is a killer place to build word of mouth for a book, but when he’s not doing that, he doesn’t hang around.
A lot of those who comment on some of PG’s favorite blogs about the business of writing, such as Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath, are PG’s kind of social interactees, but he either knows or suspects a lot of those smart folks also spend time on The Passive Voice.
(No offense intended to those bloggers not listed. As you may be able to tell from some of his posts, PG travels far and wide looking for things to blog about and regularly visits dozens of blogs and websites he finds very interesting. He just checked and he has 59 book/author websites on his newsreader and gobs more he watches on Twitter.)
This is a very long introduction to PG’s mild skepticism about a social reading app mashup with Big Six publishers and some of their already social-platformed-to-death authors.
If PG had the money Google has, he would probably buy GoodReads, fix the egregious technology platform it uses, and move up from there. It’s much easier to build on an existing social network than it is to create one from scratch.
And looking at communities of interest across the Internet, there are usually only a handful of big dogs in any given area with one lead hound and a few beta pooches close behind. The best GoodReads participants are fully-invested in that community and probably don’t have time to do the same thing in two places.