As much as the idea of enhanced ebooks brings the sexy to publishing, it doesn’t really do much for most of the books published. Enhanced, enriched, transmedia, multimedia…these are ideas best applied to those properties that lend themselves to multimedia experience (or, ahem, the associated price tag). While many focus on the bright and shiny (and mostly unfulfilled) promised of apps and enhanced ebooks, the smart kids are looking at the power of social reading.
Social reading is normal reading. It’s how we already read in an offline world, and, yes, how we read in an online world. First, some historical context, all stuff that is well known. In the beginning, humans told stories around campfires*. The storytelling happened in group situations, with some stories passed from campfire to campfire, and eventually the woolly mammoth the hunter felled was a large as the Titanic. Some stories became institutionalized — myths, biblical stories, parables. Others, well, they never really gained market share.
Hmm, publishing, the early days.
Time passed. We developed alphabets, we coalesced around local language standards, we wrote stuff down, but the process was laborious (think rocks) or fragile (think parchment) or valuable (think illuminated manuscripts). These printed stories (using both words broadly), fiction and non-fiction, were not possessed in great numbers by common folk. Reading, or sharing of stories, was done in groups, except for those ancient-times-us who wrote stories in their heads (go ancient-times-us!).
Even after the invention of the Gutenberg press, the possession of books was outside the reach of most people. We moved from campfires to candlelight, while the act of reading remained a social activity. The tradition of people reading to each other remains alive and well. I cannot think of the stories of the knights of the Round Table without remembering my mother reading them aloud to four impressionable minds. Likewise, when I remember “reading” The Island of the Blue Dolphins for the first time, I remember my third grade teacher’s voice as she read it to us.
And with the reading, of course, comes the book discussion.