How social media can save books

Social media has infiltrated the hemispheres of today’s society by embedding itself into the framework of business interactions, personal relationships, mobile distractions, television and other elements that shape our culture. While some situations and technologies adapt quickly to the transparency and hyper-connectedness of social media, other avenues take time to get used to the idea. One such avenue is books.

The publishing industry in general is threatened by the disruptive advancements that social media generates because it changes the structure of writing from a speech to a discussion.  But, this doesn’t have to be a negative attribute – this could be what actually saves the publishing industry from a meager future on the new media sidelines.

According to George Colony, CEO of Forrester, “The [economic] crisis… will sweep away organizations that do not grasp the importance of and utilize social network technologies.” This may seem obvious to anyone reading this blog, but the book industry has been holding onto old ideals for a bit too long, and they are only now beginning to embrace this new reality. In a recent article in Wired, Clive Thompson wrote, “Books are the last bastion of the old business model—the only major medium that still hasn’t embraced the digital age.”

But, just this week, Apple unveiled the new iPhone 3G S – a phone that is reader software enabled through the start-up  Scrollmotion. Using Scrollmotion, iPhone 3G S users can read over 1 million books, therefore potentially moving the digital book age a giant step further into today’s new media age. This could be great for the publising industry if they use it to their advantage and embrace this transition, which seems to be what they’re at least trying to do. At the recent Book Expo America, social media was on the minds of everyone – with literary Twitter updates and digitally infused panel discussions – it was more like an introduction to Books 2.0.

So how does social media infiltrate a book? It means bringing discussion and hyper-connectedness into reading through devices like the Kindle and online social networking channels. It means giving readers the ability to comment on and share any section of a book with others through layers on the actual book interface. What if while reading a book you could choose to turn on comments from friends or even literary theorists for a particular paragraph? Through social media, each sentence or paragraph in a book could be commented on and shared in real time. This is all capable now online of course through sites like Goodreads, but bringing this discussion right into the book’s interface seems like the next step of social reading.

Twitter and Facebook will also play a critical role in the future of social reading. Twitter, through the Kindle, could automatically keep followers in tuned with what you’re reading and provide tweets for certain interesting insights. Facebook is another way to share reading and insights easily. With the future growth of Google Books, sharing one sentence of a book with friends on Facebook could be as easy as clicking a “share” button right inside the book interface.

What about even using GPS functionality with reading? There could be an online map that your book transmits a signal to, and tells the world where and what you’re reading at that exact moment! Following reading trends could be as easy as looking at world map. The map could tell people what chapter you’re on and let you know if the person you just passed on the street is reading the same book.

These theories are not new, but they’re also not all possible yet – but I’m sure they will be. And, if the publishing industry decides to jump head-first into this, it could lead to wonderful explosions of reading and literary discussions online. I personally can’t wait for social media to infiltrate the book hemisphere in a serious way.

Katie Hillier is currently an intern at the IPG Lab via USC’s Annenberg School of Communiation where she is earning her Masters Degree from the Online Communities Program.