Design Your Own Cover!

Penguin. "Books by the Greats, Covers by You."

Penguin. “Books by the Greats, Covers by You.”

What’s happening here conceptually?
Something happened that threatened the cover.
Something bleached or nuked the cover.
The blind spot of the marketplace is consuming the objects of the marketplace.
The book needs you, reader.
Reader, they know you are a “maker.”
They know you don’t trust the cover anymore.
They know you cannot be fooled by embossed glazes, or the husky tooth of paper without coating.
They know that the reader is writing the book, too.
A blank cover is an existential margin around the book to represent this.
The publisher’s business card is this whitespace.
There is no more ink left.
The blank cover is a space for something that hasn’t happened yet.
The book is unfinished.
The book is unbounded by the cover.
It is an open parenthesis.
Like broken type, there is a mechanical gap in the book now, some process failure.
The blank cover is the reader’s halo.
The author doesn’t mind.

Needing Social Reading

This is an updated version of a previously published post.

“Do people really want to share what they’re reading?”

My instinct says, “No.”

At the same time, the practical answer(s) to this question, the “what,” “where” and “how” people will share, is fascinating.

Twitter created a market for a certain kind of sharing. But “social reading,” though a general and widely applicable term, seems to be about sharing an experience that resists having a market.

Why? On one hand, reading is relentlessly private. For the most part, who knows what’s happening when we read, what we do with it, what’s important to us, what we remember, how it affects the way we speak and think, how it changes over time? The material to be shared is often below the level of language itself, it’s subverbal, it’s somewhere psychologically deep. (I’m thinking of something more profound than sharing Kindle highlights.)

We don’t know how to share this. We can’t conjure the words to do so. How do you create an economy out of that?

On the other hand, the public aspect of reading, you might say, isn’t about reading at all, but buying: the retail experience. This is definitely public – obesely pubilic, pumped up, overdesigned. The interpersonal aspect of reading, however, is starving, anemic. We chat through the appetizer, we gloss over, we lend without a word, we tweet, we forget what we read yesterday.

Reading requires interpretation, opining, ranting, etc. One can’t coax people to do that about what content they read, or what music they listen to, or what films they watch.

Tumblr and Pinterest are probably something else than the kind of sharing I’m thinking of. They are more like a reaction to content abundance, a kind of anti-interpretive aggregation.

What kind of new social reading desires are being created? Will the intensity remain low, dwindling, never enough for much of a market or an economy?

Or is there something significant happening, latent and evolving?

Findings

A community manager from Findings, one of my favorite social reading services, recently sent an email to see how the service was working for me. What great community management! I took the opportunity to give some feedback from a user perspective. Here’s my reply.

I’m glad Findings exists. From supporting Instapaper to the recent development of manual clips from paper sources, you’re doing so many things right.

As a brief review, I jotted down this feedback that you might want to consider:

Functionality:

Attribution could be improved to include author name. A post includes title and website as a default, but not author, and it seems like it should. (Not sure how you’d do this, since you’re pulling from the site information.) Maybe you could have a default space to enter the author name(s) manually, which would then display with each post.

When improving the bookmarket, note that some nested formatting, such as bullet points, is lost in a clip.

Improve thumbnail image support. Many clips have a generic (non)image.

Improve iPad functionality. Manually adding a clip with an ISBN gives and endless hourglass and can only be done through the web.

Promoting Discovery:

I’d like to be able to scroll through more “Latest Sources,” or set defaults so that only certain categories of sources will come up for me: by genre, location, etc.

Are you doing any work with publishers that you can share? This could be a great way for publishers and authors to promote discovery.

I’d like to see Findings connect with the Goodreads API to find books/reviews on Goodreads.

Community:

Keep publishing on the Findings blog (for example, with your new series about reading). I (and presumably others) want to hear about how the project is going and what developments are in store.

Warmly,

Michael

Readmill

I’m a fan of Readmill, the digital reader app for non-DRM EPUB files. Why? It’s simple, and doing the work of realizing the Open Bookmarks standard for social reading. They also come across as being passionate and reader-focused.

This book needs Readmill

However, there are a number of simple features that make Readmill less appealing to me than iBooks. Here’s what I think Readmill should consider exploring in order to improve the reading experience.

- Enable readers to open books from a Box account, instead of Dropbox only.

- More font sizes. The smallest current size is still too large. I like to read with a small font. Readmill at least needs to match iBooks with this setting.

- Enable searchable books, including notes. I can’t do this in Readmill.

- For linked text within a book, reveal what the link is before launching. Currently, I have to launch in Safari before knowing where I’m going.

- Allow highlighting across pages. If I have a highlight that extends past a page break, I have to change the font size in order to get the highlight I want viewable on one page.

- Allow for different note colors. If I have different kinds of things I want to highlight, I need a color other than the default yellow.

- Allow editing of highlights. Currently, I have to delete and re-highlight if I want to change something.

- Allow readers to toggle which highlights are shared. For example, sometimes I just want to highlight a word that doesn’t need to be shared – in fact, it would be confusing for my followers to see words out of context.

- There also needs to be a place to add comments separate from highlights. Sometimes I just want to make a comment separate from a part of the text, but before my review of the book after it’s complete.

- Better note visibility. Currently, I can’t tell if a highlight has a comment unless I click on it, and interrupt my reading flow by bringing up the separate highlight pane.

- Highlights should be sortable (even if I have to do this through the web). I want to be able to read them in order of their position in the book, not in the order that I applied them. If I read a book out of sequence, for example, and want to go back and read my highlights as a group, in the current sort order this is difficult to make sense of.

- The timer and “% complete meters” are the beginnings of a data platform so that publisher affiliates can find out how people are reading (and pay for that information). On Readmill, reporting this data has a long lag time. Goodreads does this feature better. I would also like the option of manually entering my position in the book.

For every digital reading experience, there are some features that really matter, and others that are minor. But every time I see how Readmill has taken the time to match the bookmark in their logo to the loading icon, I feel they should have been focusing on some of the things in the above list, too.

Connection

Academically-sponsored discussion + author (Jennifer Egan) + speculations on technology and books = hits at the soft spot where readers and writers meet.

via Dan Rosenblum/@CapitalNewYork:

“[Egan] said there was a contradiction between her interest in technology as a writer and her personal behavior.

‘I didn’t want email on my phone, and I held out as long as I could,’ Egan said. ‘But then I noticed that I was having to go home all the time, because I was having to check my email.’

But, she said, the ‘fetishization of connection itself’ fascinated her.

‘Who cares that we can connect?’ she said. ‘What’s the big deal? I think Facebook is colossally dull. I think it’s like everyone coming to live in a huge Soviet apartment block, [in] which everyone’s cell looks exactly the same.’

The room laughed.”

Readers will pay (money, time) to connect with writers. Sometimes it’s funny, too – even at a moment like this when a writer’s contempt puts distance in that connection, and puts a reader farther away from what they are: creators themselves.

It could be different. Egan could find be finding a new audience on Subtext, for example.

I wonder what Egan would be saying about connection if she had no readers.

Two poles: on one, the “Everyone is an artist” of Joseph Beuys. On the other, the “I am not really an artist” of Maurizio Cattelan.

When writers are not biting the hands that read them, the reader is probably somewhere in between the two.