Making books social
Digital technology is also transforming reading from a famously solitary experience into a social one.
Now that anyone with an Internet connection or even a cell phone effectively owns a digital printing press, the distinction between professional and amateur writers is rapidly blurring. Digital publishing has uncapped a geyser of creative output from authors who may never have made it into print or wouldn't have thought to try.
On Textnovel.com, thousands of cell-phone-toting authors write novels via text message, one or two sentences at a time. Aspiring writers can sign up on the free site and begin writing, either from phones or computers. Readers can follow the stories onlineor receive a text every time their favorite author adds a plot twist.
On Scribd.com, writers and digital pack rats are building a huge swap meet for written works of every length, many of which once existed on paper. Visitors can browse digital versions of novels and nonfiction books some by established authors, others by complete unknowns.
As in many places online, free content is the rule. Writers who are intent on making money will have to find creative ways to attract readers and build an audience.
How do you make people want it?
The proliferation of amateur content poses a conundrum for publishers, who must find a way to make a profit in a sprawling marketplace increasingly filled with free content.
Part of the answer may be found on Goodreads.com, a digital library and social networking site where millions of members can log in and chat about any book they want, including many that will never see print.
Lori Hettler runs one of the largest book clubs on Goodreads, with nearly 7,000 members chiming in from all over the globe. Discussions can go on for hundreds of messages, with readers passionately championing or eviscerating the club's latest selection.