Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tech Talk and the Active Ebook

Let's talk about technology, specifically in conjunction with media.

There are a few absolutes we can work with.

1. New formats and vehicles are invented that will replace old formats and vehicles.

I'm using the word "vehicle" as a term for the delivery of media, and I'm labeling "media" as content in the form of information or entertainment.

Media can be a novel, a song, a movie. It exists via various formats. A "format" is the form a medium takes.

A song's format can be on a cassette tape, vinyl, CD, mp3, wma, flac, etc.

The vehicle used to play the song depends on its format. We can listen to vinyl on a turntable stereo, mp3s on an iPhone, flac on a computer.

Often formats and vehicles compete with each other until one dominates (vinyl vs. cd, cd vs. mps, VHS vs. Beta, BluRay vs. HD DVD.)

When new formats and vehicles are created, they usually allow a user to enjoy experience media in a superior way over previous formats and vehicles.

The mp3 format allowed for compression of large digital files, which was needed because years ago memory was more expensive. These digital files could then be stored, traded, and many could be carried portably on an mp3 player.

2. As formats and vehicles improve, so does media.

Formats and vehicles often evolve in tandem. For example, as computers improve, software improves, which requires better computers, which allows for better software.

In the case of music, we now have lossless files, which sound better. These files can also carry data other than the music itself; cover art, song title, liner notes, lyrics.

DVD didn't just have a better picture than VHS, it also allowed for extras. Commentary. Alternate endings. Different cuts.

3D is changing movies and video games, taking them in new directions.

3. Prices drop.

This always happens. Once upon a time, a VCR was $1000 (in 1981 dollars) and a copy of Wrath of Khan would set you back $39.99 on VHS. Now you can get a DVD player new for $30 and Khan for $4.99. Or you can stream Khan on Netflix and only pay $9.99 a month for unlimited films.

As prices drop, more people leave their old formats and vehicles and adopt the new, superior ones. Eventually, the old formats and vehicles become niche markets, and the new tech becomes mainstream.

Until another tech takes over and restarts the cycle.

So what does this mean for books?

For hundreds years, the format and vehicle for novels was the bound book.

Then the ebook came along.

The ebook was different than many other new types of technology, because it required users to have both a format and a vehicle for their media.

Readers were used to buying a book and being able to read it. Now they needed special ereaders, and had to buy their media in a specific format.

But the superiority of the technology eventually won out, and now ebooks outsell print. As ereader prices come down, and the technology improves, more and more readers will adopt it.

Being able to hold a thousand books on a single device, adjust font size, and buy ebooks instantly, are just a few of many advantages ebooks have over print.

I have no doubt we'll see $99 ereaders by the holiday season.

Those paying attention to the publishing world may have heard that my upcoming Jack Daniels thriller, Stirred (co-written with Blake Crouch) is being published by the Thomas & Mercer imprint of Amazon.

Amazon is pricing it competitively at $2.99--something no other publisher will do. (In fact, I pulled my second Timecaster book from Berkley because they wouldn't work with me on lowering the ebook price.)

But if prices are coming down, and vehicles are getting better, what about my second rule of tech?

So far, ebooks are just text, which isn't an enhancement over print.

There have been a few efforts to blend video with text, but these require even more expensive vehicles ($500 iPads rather than $140 Kindles) so I don't see these being widely adopted anytime soon. Plus, I don't think a video/text hybrid is what draws people to books.

So I spent some time pulling a Steve Jobs. Instead of guessing what the future holds, I looked at what people are currently doing.

Jobs, as you know, paid attention when music fans began converting and trading mp3s. While the music industry tried to fight it, Jobs created a user-friendly portable device (the iPod) that played mp3s. As a result, a computer company is now the biggest music retailer in the world. All because he watched what fans are doing with music and gave them something to make it easier for them.

That made me look at at what readers are doing with books.

On sites like Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Shelfari, Goodreads, and Librarything, readers are running book groups, reviewing, recommending, sharing what they've read (and how much they've read), and discussing books.

When a book is very popular, readers are writing their own fan fiction.

Readers often contact the author, to ask questions, or say how much they enjoyed a book, or demand a sequel.

It's important to note that readers are doing these things independently, without the author or publisher prompting them. This is what readers enjoy doing with book, above and beyond reading it.

Which makes me ask: why aren't we giving readers what they want?

Enter the Active Ebook.

I'll make an admission. It kills me that my print books are still owned by publishers, who are pricing them too high and sticking it to me with poor royalties.

Because my agent reserved the "interactive multimedia" clause in my contracts, I've been salivating to come up with a way to release these on my own.

So I thought about enhanced ebooks like the Big 6 did. Maybe I'd add some video and audio. Maybe an mp3 director's commentary at the end of each chapter, explaining things about why I wrote it. Linkable footnotes, pictures, and maybe even some games like word search.

But that wasn't evolution. That wasn't Ebook 2.0.

I was missing something. Something big.

User aggregated content.

I've talked about this before. Google is a billion dollar company because they allow users to navigate websites that other people created.

YouTube is all content created by uploaders, for free.

Most of the big internet successes of the last decade were because of users adding to the site.

And as I explained above, users are eager to add content concerning books. The want to do reviews and recommendations and talk to authors and even write fan fic.

All of this happens outside of a book.

What if it happened inside of a book?

What if you don't join a social network to discuss books, but instead you joined a book that was a social network?

Here's how this scenario plays out in my head:

I'm on my ereader, and I get an electronic invitation from a trusted friend to buy Whiskey Sour by J.A. Konrath. It's only $2.99, and the description looks good. Not only that, but it has a community of 12,393 people, so there will be plenty to do.

I buy the book with the click of a button. But rather than begin reading right away, I message my friend who is also in the book, and we decide to join the 4:00pm Whiskey Sour Book Club. There are eight other people signed up for that time slot, and we can all read and discuss the book together. There is also a 3pm slot open, but that's for fast readers, and my speed is moderate at best. The 4pm is a moderate speed club.

Since 4pm isn't until later, I browse the Whiskey Sour Forum, and read a few reviews. I also join a chat session and meet two of the other readers who are in my 4pm Book Club. One of them is a bit abrasive, but the bot monitoring the chat session warns him, then kicks him off. Typing on my keyboard becomes tedious, so I plug in my headphones and we voice chat for a bit, talking about thrillers we liked.

Four o'clock rolls around. I'm in the kitchen, making a sandwich, but my ereader calls my home phone to remind me of the start time.

I read a few pages, enjoy them, then let the ebook read to me until the chapter ends. There are already two people in the bookclub forum, discussing what they read. I join in. Others enter, and my friend links to the FAQ and Author Notes on Chapter 1, which we all discuss.

Whiskey Sour has a full length, author-read commentary, where Konrath explains where, why, and how he wrote certain scenes.

Some of the group wants to continue, but I'm curious to listen to the mp3 commentary, so I beg off and decide to join the 6pm Club for Chapter 2.

The commentary is interesting. Konrath is an entertaining guy, says a lot of funny things. But I realize I'd enjoy it more after I finish, so I pop into the next book club.

Me and another guy read straight through and discuss the book all night, and when we finish I write a review of it in the forum and recommend it to my friends via my ereader. I also notice that Konrath is having a live chat tomorrow, and sign up for it.

The next morning, I find I can't get some of the characters out of my head, so I pop into the forum again and read some of the user created stories. These are fans who have written about the characters in Whiskey Sour. Most of them suck. Some aren't bad. Some are even as good as Konrath. I rate a few, recommend a few, and vote for the top five.

I watch TV for a bit, until a screen comes up saying it is chat time. I sync my ereader with my TV and watch Konrath's talking head as he fields a Skype chat. Several people express that they wanted a longer ending. Konrath says he's working on one, as well as three new chapters which will be inserted into Whiskey Sour at the end of the week.

"Hemingway said that a book is never finished, it's simply due," Konrath says. "But now, books no longer have to be finished. They can continue to grow and improve for as long as the writer is alive. And beyond."

He says that the new additions will be marked as such. People can read the original, or the new version.

I get on my ereader, and ask it to call me when the new material is uploaded. I also ask for updates when people respond to my forum comments, or vote on my review.

Then I finish listening to the audio commentary, pop into the forum to discuss it, and wind up text chatting with Konrath, who is talking about his latest book.

Sounds pretty good. I click on the link to buy it.

Sure beats surfing the internet and watching TV.


Okay, some of the tech isn't there yet. But most of it is.

The idea of a book as a community (which is basically what a website is) makes complete sense if you look at what readers are already doing.

I also love the idea of a book that never ends, where the author can keep adding to it. That may not be for everyone, but there are dozens of books I wish had been longer. Some authors (Stephen King's The Stand, David Morrell's The Totem, my Trapped) have put out different versions of the same book. But if King wrote an extra chapter to Salem's Lot, I'd be the first in line.

Instead of books simply being static text, this scenario allows them to become active. Alive. Growing. Readers continually generate content about books they're read, in dozens of places. Why not centralize all of that content in the one place it should be; within the book itself.

With an Active Ebook, you would have more than a novel. You'd have an ongoing, regenerating, constantly biggering community that brings fans together, encourages user aggregated content, and allows the author to reach a lot of readers at once.

A book could be its own, miniature website, self-contained on an ereader.

Or you could ignore all of that and just read the book normally.

Either way, isn't it worth your $2.99?


Sean Sweeney said...

You still have a home phone, Joe? Huh.....

JA Konrath said...

Landline came included with the internet/cable package. I use it about ten minutes a week, as opposed to 6 hours a day like my iPhone 4.

I also listened to a CD the other day--long enough to rip it to mp3.

J.J. said...

Joe, sounds like a great idea! Just be careful what platform you build it on. You don't want to have the same fate as the iFlow Reader...

Glynn James said...

I'm a web developer by trade and a writer by hobby. This kind of tech would be a dream. I can already see myself building hidden easter eggs in webpages for folks who are reading the book to find.

Imagine if you could click on a character's name in a page and find all sorts of stuff - other books they are, more info about them. Short stories and pictures. Even write your own scene that they can be involved with.

I also still have a home phone :)

Rob Cornell said...

Just reading that made me tired. Way more than I want from a book--except maybe for non-fiction. Otherwise, I'll take the text and leave the bells and whistles to my video games. :)

Glynn James said...

Other books they are *in*
(sorry typo)

Unknown said...

Sounds good on paper, but you'd lose your ass on this one. The cost to create this would be expensive, not to mention the time/work to maintain a site like that. It would cost a fortune to operate, and $2.99 just isn't going to recoup your investment.

There's also the whole "joining another social network".

Whatever happened to just reading a book? Why does it have to be more?

Glynn James said...

@Rob - What if your book could be your video game as well? Get to an action scene in the book. Watch it happen or step into someone's shoes and pull the trigger yourself.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm thinking that people aren't going to want to commit that kind of time to just one book. They're meant to be many. What if you get too many people enthralled in just one of your $2.99 books and then get killed because they never invest in the others? Ideally, you'd want each person to buy each book and then move on to your next.

The Daring Novelist said...

Oh man, I never really liked any of the prognostications for enhanced ebooks. They were basically not book, but games or interactive video - things which are more spin-offs than books.

But this? I can see that. And I DO see it going that way, though I don't know that it will so much be built into the book as the eReaders themselves. The books can have the same kind of links they have now -- the readers will integrate the Web 2.0 seamlessly.

However, since the experience of reading is something that happens privately in my head, I really don't expect to do all these WHILE reading. That is something that DVD makers didn't realize about movie viewing at first -- the biggest audience for DVDs turned out not to be the young men who love to go to the movies, but the middle-aged women who like to watch them in privacy.

That may be where the multimedia predictions went wrong. A book is still a book -- it's just that people love to talk and read ABOUT the cool experience books give them.

Jeff Faria said...

I have no doubt we'll see $99 ereaders by the holiday season.

A lot depends on cheap 'tablets'. Which seem inevitable.

Interesting to see your take on 'book as community'. I see it that way too, though not quite as you described. (Your take may be right and mine may be mistaken, of course.)

One thing that haunts me is the idea that a discussion could take place WITHIN the book itself. It's a user option to see the discussion or not, and naturally the commenters have to be curated. This would not work for an unknown author or an unknown book series, but if you were writing the next Harry Potter, it would be a Big Deal.

Dustin Ashe said...

Amazing! I love it! :)

JA Konrath said...

The cost to create this would be expensive, not to mention the time/work to maintain a site like that.

This blog cost me nothing to create, and the time I spend here is minimal.

And yet I get as many as 30,000 hits a day with almost no maintenance.

Once the software is invented, it'll be plug and chug and pretty much run itself.

Jeff Faria said...

"It would cost a fortune to operate, and $2.99 just isn't going to recoup your investment."

A drawback is that it would take some time from writing. But someone with a guaranteed audience would find sponsors to provide a revenue stream. It would work for a Steven King, a Rowling, etc. It probably would work just fine for Joe.

This sort of thing would also be a form of promotion. A replacement for most bookstore tours and talk show appearances, for the author/book for whom this sort of thing makes sense.

Unknown said...


I am a big fan of Neal Stephenson, and he is attempting something similar with his project "The Mongoliad" (

You have a constantly evolving story, fan input and author interaction all consolidated in one place. The main differences are: no integration with portable electronics, and Mongoliad is a subscription model.

I can't comment on how well it works, because I don't invest enough into any given book to justify a subscription.

JA Konrath said...

This would not work for an unknown author or an unknown book series

That's where it gets interesting.

If we look at movies or books that are considered "cult", they are first embraced by a few, then word of mouth grows.

I can see an Active Ebook attractive a handful of core supporters, who then go on to make it a hit.

Books draw people together. They link sympatico personalities.

Ever go to a Comicon? These are the diehards who love certain IPs.They dress like characters, get into heated discussions, form friendships, and enjoy each others' company.

I'm pretty sure they'd love Active Ebooks.

Anonymous said...

I question whether there's really much of a interest by readers for discussion of a book. Amazon already allows for discussions and even for best sellers hardly anyone ever starts one, unless it's to protest the price.

The inviting thing about books is that they're words. The reader can enjoy them in peace, get the story and move on. I don't see that ereaders have changed that dynamic much.

I sell many thousands of books each month and may only get a couple of reader reviews. No one's ever started a discussion of one of my books. The need for discussion and comments doesn't seem to be there by and large.

Coral said...

It's already happening in education. English and Math programs are already out there. Interactive textbooks are becoming the norm for the big scholastic publishing companies.

I like the idea and well in a way it's like a MMORPG. Only the story line would be much better.

Readers and geeks unite! Two of my favorite things... :)

Will Granger said...

I have just gone public with my own website based on the first two books in my YA series. So far, I have a map, photgraphs, a journal written by my antagonist, and geographical information on my settings. None of this is in my books. I've been creating this material over the past several months, and I plan to keep adding to the site. I especially want to ask my readers what they want to see and then add it. One of my goals is to make the website an immersive, interactive experience for my readers. All of this exciting because we are just at the beginning. Thanks Joe for giving us such a clear picture of what we have to look forward to.

Milton Bagby said...

I agree with Phibble that this idea might be labor intensive, but disagree about losing money.

If you rig each activity like a toll road, you'll come out okay.

An initial $2.99 buys the book, but the 4:00pm chat session is $0.25 for book owners or $1.00 for visitors. It costs $0.50 to submit fan fic, but you win a $5.00 PayPal prize if your work is voted first place among the entries for that date.

The more things you have that people can do (and the writer doesn't have to do or add content) and for which you can charge small, incremental fees of less than one dollar--well, I'll take some of that. Why do you think casinos are packed with quarter slots?

JA Konrath said...

No one's ever started a discussion of one of my books. The need for discussion and comments doesn't seem to be there by and large.

And yet books are constantly being discussed, rated, and recommended on dozens of large social networks.

Fan fic is thriving for large intellectual properties.

There are thousands of book clubs.

Some YouTube videos have millions of views, and thousands of comments.

Amazon is a large hub, but it isn't the only place people discuss books, nor is it an ideal place.

If we took Whiskey Sour, then linked it with everything ever written about it, and linked together all those people who ever read it, I believe enough would stick around to form a community. One that would regenerate as new people joined and read the book.

Merrill Heath said...

Rob said: Just reading that made me tired. Way more than I want from a book--except maybe for non-fiction. Otherwise, I'll take the text and leave the bells and whistles to my video games. :)

LOL, Rob. I'm with you, man. That's all way too interactive for me. Just give me a well-written, entertaining story and I'm happy.

Merrill Heath
Bearing False Witness

Jeff Faria said...

"If we look at movies or books that are considered "cult", they are first embraced by a few, then word of mouth grows."

I see what you're saying. I guess I'm saying it would not work for every book, but I should not say a book has to be 'established' first. Maybe this is the way a book BECOMES established.

But I do get where you're coming from. Book as community. Book that evolves. Less of a one-way street. Works for me. Does require a sort of new kind of author, I expect.

Jimmie Hammel said...

The more people you have participating, the more likely it will be that someone will give away the ending.

I would love a round robin, read aloud set up. A skype group where each person reads a page (or opts to just listen to the others) and everyone follows along together. Then they're not only rating the author but also the reading abilities of their fellow "out louders"... You could wind up with groups of that team up together permanently and read entire books to each other.

Jeff Faria said...

"LOL, Rob. I'm with you, man. That's all way too interactive for me."

This is what I meant. This approach is not for every author or every book. I'd do it, though, if I could get a handle on it. It's been kicking around my head for a long time. Like a lot of people here are saying, though, the additional work, and the uncertainty of what this does to your original idea, is offputting.

Anonymous said...


Jacklyn Cornwell said...

All of this is very interesting, but it wouldn't leave a whole lot of time for someone like me who wants to get to the next book. It would, however, be a good tool for someone who wants to interview the author and read all the books, one right after the other, which could lead to a subscription based service that would allow a newcomer to opt in at any point and get all the books at a discount and continue to get new books at a discounted rate. I see subscription written all over this.

Jeff Faria said...

"The more people you have participating, the more likely it will be that someone will give away the ending"

Things like that are a concern. Frankly, I'd tie the discussion to chapters. If that's possible...

Anonymous said...

Where's the Thomas and Mercer post? Still coming, I hope.

Anthea Strezze said...

As a first step, perhaps just links from the book to communities like GoodReads or the Amazon review page or a website you set up yourself.

With multiple formats and vehicles, you need a way for all the fans of a book to wind up in the same place. Likewise, series discussions and author discussions and genre discussions can thrive more if there's a way for all the "book" communities to be connected.

Interesting concept.

Unknown said...


Running a blog (especially blogger which desperately need threaded comments) is a lot different than running a site like you suggest.

A site like that wouldn't run itself, there's policing, there's adding content (it's not all user generated), there's security issues. Server issues (you'd need a dedicated server which at min are $100/month for a decent one) - that has to be maintained.

You're upfront costs on this would be more than most book advances these days. You'd probably spend a few hundred/mo to support it. That's just one book. And time.. when are u going to write the next book?

There's a lot more to just throwing up a site using some software.

Ella Schwartz said...

Whoa!!! That active ebook is some nifty vision Joe!!! I never really imagined such a "social" experience, but the idea is certainly intriguing. Although I would say that a device this sophisticated will probably need to be integrated with a smartphone, don't you think?

With Borders shutting their doors, and more bookstores to follow, I've worried about the decline of the social aspects of reading. I think you just solved it.

Now I need to go dream about this super smart eReader for a while...

Awesome post Joe. One of your best!!!

jtplayer said...

I just can't see a large number of people being interested in all that. A niche market perhaps, but that's about it.

I just want a well written book that moves me. I don't really care about alternate endings, author interviews or commentary, cross promotion, or any other supposed "extras".

Once I get to the end of the book I'm done, and ready for the next one. And I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment.

Paul Levine said...

Maybe I'm anti-social, Joe, but I don't want to discuss a book with a bunch of people while I'm reading it. I don't want their ideas to influence mine. Reading, to me, is still a solitary, internal pursuit. When I'm done with the book, fine...I'll talk about it with everyone and anyone.

Jeff Faria said...

"You're upfront costs on this would be more than most book advances these days"

I don't think Joe sees things in terms of 'book advances' anymore.

"Although I would say that a device this sophisticated will probably need to be integrated with a smartphone"

Kindles already have wireless internet connectivity. All future devices will. That's not an issue.

"There's a lot more to just throwing up a site using some software."

This is where a fairly successful writer gets an assistant. The beauty of that is, for this sort of thing, the assistant could be anywhere and work any hours. All that's required is diligence and a mindset sympatico with the author's.

Jeff Faria said...

"I don't want their ideas to influence mine. Reading, to me, is still a solitary, internal pursuit. When I'm done with the book, fine...I'll talk about it with everyone and anyone."

I think that's legitimate. But I also think that some people will read (solitary) then want to congregate and discuss, and then retreat and read again.

I think about the Harry Potter books in that regard. Obviously there was nothing interactive in the (paper) books themselves, but there was also a highly social aspect to them. Many books can be like that, the Potter books were just very famous.

This concept just gives that social aspect of books a new means of expressing itself. It's not really new, it's always existed. Hence, as Joe says, the phenomenon of Comicon.

I think he does have something here, even if it's not for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I already think it's cool when my kindle app tells me 23 people highlighted a certain passage.

I think what you outlined sounds incredible.

jtplayer said...

I don't know about you guys, but with work and my kids and all of life's responsibilities, and trying to squeeze in my pleasures like music and writing and reading, there just ain't enough time left for some kind of reading "social network" deal.

Robert Bidinotto said...

Well, Joe, you're frequently ahead of the curve. We'll just have to see if, in this case, you're around the bend.

My gut tells me that your vision will be viable only for the very rare book and/or author. A book would need to attract a sufficient readership upon which to build a social community, and most books just won't do that. It's easy to find enough people willing to immerse themselves in a vast social community based on Middle Earth or the world of Jane Austen. It's quite another thing to try to establish a social community based on the ordinary (or sub-ordinary) books of ordinary (or sub-ordinary) authors.

Yet the up-front investment of time, effort, and cash by an author to build the infrastructure for a community based on his ebook would pay off only in the most exceptional cases. Most authors would probably be better off just publishing a regular ebook, then moving on to write the next one.

So here's an alternative strategy: First publish a regular ebook, and see how well it sells. If there's a great response and enough demand, release an enhanced edition, perhaps at a slightly higher price, with all the bells and whistles you envision. My guess is that's the direction where things will likely migrate.

TK Kenyon said...

Sounds so cool!

Joe -- you said that writers should connect with others by producing something of value.

I thought people (many writers rss your blog, like me!) would like Dr. Kenyon's Writing Apple, a daily writing kick to help you flesh out your work-in-progress.

You can like it on Facebook at: Dr. Kenyon's Daily Writing Apple

An apple a day keeps the writer's block away!

Love your blog!

TK Kenyon

JL Bryan said...

I think this could be neat. Realtime interaction with other readers around the world who are at the same place in the book that you are, sharing comments, guesses about what will happen next in the story, etc. Obviously, people can opt in or opt out. But it would be a cool option. I do like seeing the "most highlighted" sentences for Kindle books on Amazon.

Dan Lawrence said...


I can see this working really well for ebooks of literary fiction and the ol' classics and canon as well. These are the sorts of activities that happen in a college English classroom in relation to a text: dialogue, discussion, analysis.

Students usually get a bigger kick out of talking about the book with classmates than reading it by themselves, even at the secondary education level.

It's a shared experience. Themes are debated. Theories are introduced. Thoughts are shared. And people laugh, get angry, and have a great time.

I like it. Always dig your posts, Joe. Thanks for sharing your mind.


JA Konrath said...

Where's the Thomas and Mercer post? Still coming, I hope.

There's not much to post.

Amazon did Shaken. Now they're doing Stirred, but under an imprint.

Blake and I get the big marketing push and widespread distribution of a publisher, but we get to release the ebook at a low price several months before the print version.

Stirred will do well, and its sales will lift the sales of all of our other titles.

I wouldn't sign with a legacy publisher for any amount of money. But signing with Amazon is a no-brainer. They aren't legacy.

JA Konrath said...

there just ain't enough time left for some kind of reading "social network" deal.

And yet, here you are, on my blog, where you've posted hundreds of times.

Robert Collins said...

I agree that your idea might not work for all authors, or all books, in all cases. I do think that you've come up with a great thought experiment.

You've provided interesting answers to questions successful authors ought to be asking right now. There should be ways for authors to connect with readers other than appearances and blogs (the latter is, basically, reading more stuff the author wrote).

I hope this sparks some discussion about tech and the future of the business. I'd like to hear other authors answer the questions you've raised.

Anonymous said...

I think from the comments some people don't understand the new generation of readers. For a lot of readers they do this in place of other things. And not to sound gender biased, but for some females book clubs are the gaming, dungeons and dragon, comic book fanatic equivalent in loyalty, time-consumption, and enthusiasm.

I could easily see YA books (especially the paranormal variety), fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers, and mysteries getting a boon from this. I think other genres would probably do a lower keyed variety maybe not as time intensive for the author.

I have to say as a writer it makes my inner introvert throw her head in the porcelain throne and heave. But I'd rather have discussions about something I wrote then my day to day life.


Anonymous said...

It's an interesting idea. Granted, not all of the ideas you go over for active ebooks appeal to me personally, but it has potential.

I don't think all the interactive elements would appeal to everyone, but the fact that an active ebook would make it easier for people who DO want that is pretty good. It'd definitely be interesting to see what people would do with it. I think if it had easy integration with existing social networks like Facebook and Twitter, people could get into the whole "book club" thing. I can definitely see how that would appeal to some people, even if it doesn't appeal to me personally.

I personally like that the option would exist to just enjoy the book in its "vanilla" form. So it works if there are people who don't want all that and can just enjoy the book normally. If it didn't have that option, I think it might turn a few people off of it.

Adding different editions of the story could also be a good idea, as long as its not overdone. I mean, different versions of Stephen King's the Stand exist with added scenes. So throwing in some extra scenes of character development with secondary characters or fleshing out certain scenes more would be cool. As long as you don't over do it and pull a George Lucas, retconning things for no reason and what not, that would be neat. It wouldn't appeal to everyone, but again, it would be available to people who would like it.

The part that I think most people would enjoy would be the audio commentary aspect of it. One of my favorite authors Brandon Sanderson has put annotations/text commentary on his website for most of his books and that seems to have been fairly popular. I personally love film audio commentary and I'm a writer who loves to hear how other people got their ideas, so I would enjoy the option to go through the book after I've read it and hear how it was written.

The only things that worry me are the level of work it would cost to maintain it. Clearly there would be more prepwork involved than just releasing a standard ebook. I don't think it would be quite as expensive as some of the other commenters make it out to be, but there would still be a lot of work involved to work out how all of these elements would integrate and how it would be maintained.

But, assuming it could be pulled off, there would be people who would like this. In fact, I could see people who normally wouldn't buy your ebooks just checking it out as a curiosity, just to see if it would work and to see if they would like it. There's defiantly a lot of good ideas here. I would pick it Whiskey Sour again just to check out some of the extra content. I can't wait to see how this goes. If you can pull it off, I think it would do very well.

Anonymous said...

(Sorry about the text wall there Joe, but I had a lot to say about this topic, haha).

Dale Day said...

Not only are e-readers getting cheaper but more and more users are downloading free software to their PCs and laptops so they can read on them.
I've seen ads on various sites for used e-readers well under $100.
As you've indicated, e-books will never replace hardcopy but why ignore technological advances? [It's very unlikely that I'll ever give up the paperbacks I read on a regular basis.]

Tim Barger said...

This blog is a perfect example of the community you are talking about. While you are obviously a big draw, you are actually sort of the yeast that gets all the other visitors fermenting and their responses, opinions and info are what makes Newbie's so compelling. It's the only site I've ever visited where I regularly read all the comments too.

kathleen shoop said...

My God, I'm a small thinker! Big thinkers are always amaze me. Once I read this post, I thought, Of course, that's what's happening...just outside of the book! I'm glad there are bigger people than me in the world!

Michelle Muto said...

Interesting thought, but I don't want to discuss a book I'm reading with others. There could be spoilers. And, it'd be like pausing a movie for a group discussion.

About book discussions. I don't see them either, except in rare cases. I guess that's the draw of Goodreads & Shelfari.

There's so much to learn from a book on the Amazon book page since authors can link their books to Shelfari. Glossaries, character profiles - dialog snippets, etc. You think it would be the perfect place for people to discuss a favorite book.

Exciting times. You've been right on a lot of things, Joe. Let's see what else comes to pass.

Mark Asher said...

@Joe: "And yet books are constantly being discussed, rated, and recommended on dozens of large social networks."

See what you did there? That "large social network" part? That's the trick, getting the critical mass together.

If each book is a social network, how will the 47,000 new ebooks added each month to Amazon attack enough users to get that critical mass?

There have also been some studies of user response to vooks, books that have enhanced features. A lot of people seem to prefer simply reading and don't need the features.

Give me all the extras you want as long as you don't goose the price and charge me more than the $2.99 your books normally cost. I may or may not listen to the music, the author commentary, watch the video, etc., but I don't mind them being there. I doubt I'll do the social media stuff embedded in it too, but as long as it's invisible while I'm reading I don't care.

Just don't charge me more because I really don't want to pay for that stuff because I'll probably never use it.

T.J. Dotson said...

The idea of a book as a community (which is basically what a website is) makes complete sense if you look at what readers are already doing.

Holy Crap Joe,

This is a 'big idea'. I can already see how can put my experience with online community and my authorship together. I worked for a while as the community manager or an online community that tried to do this.

Theres a few things I can already think of that the can be done using the current techonolgy. Especially for APP and Tablet users.

Cathy Titus Neumueller said...

Very interesting ideas. I'm a public librarian and I host a book club five times a year. Some of my participates would love this in place of our in person discussions.

For me personally, I watch almost no TV yet find that I have so little time to read because I'm on the computer surfing the Internet so much. I don't need more to distract me from reading the actual story.

Still I'd love to see what you'd do to enhance the Jack Daniels books. I'd gladly revisit them.

Shawn R. said...

I personally don't much care for the interactive/enhanced concept. I just love to read. But I also love to write, & it would be foolish of me as a content provider to blow off potential new technology & directions.

I never thought I'd give up paper books, either.

Just because I as a reader have no use for fan fiction, or book clubs, or video trailers, or or or ... doesn't mean that other people might not love them.

Plus, I'm 46. The next generation of readers grew up with computers in a way that I did not. Kids, teens & 20-somethings multi-task with technology in ways that are often foreign to me. If I want a career into old age, an ongoing income stream that will help me with retirement and the like, then it behooves me to pay attention to their wants & needs, the way they use technology.

And it also behooves me to try to UNDERSTAND it. To hold onto those rights, learn at least the basics of the various media, see if there's stuff I can do myself ...

I've been thinking about this a lot, and I'm curious to see where things will go. Thanks for outlining some possibilities that I hadn't considered.

David Gaughran said...

Hey Joe,

I'm always interested in new ideas, and even though there are parts I'm sceptical about, I'm not gonna knock it.

But I want to ask a couple of quick questions.

1. Do you think your time is better spent doing this stuff, or writing more books?
2. Do you think your readers would prefer your to do this stuff, or write more books?

One last point I'll say is this. The future of e-books could well be as you describe. However, if it is, it will be because someone develops a platform that can be applied to every book, rather than re-inventing the wheel for each author/title.

That's the only way costs will come down to viable levels.

And if someone's going to do that, isn't it more likely to be a company like Google, Facebook, Amazon, or Goodreads who already have huge communities, data centres, and huge teams of engineers, rather than an author?

Interesting though, I'll give you that.


Milton Bagby said...

It is obvious from the number of horrified comments that Joe's idea is not for everyone.

Some folks just like to read books. Some just want to write them and be done with it. Some people actually have jobs and hobbies and families. Go in peace, and bless you.

Authors with an aggressive entrepreneurial streak, however, know that the video game industry is expected to hit $70 Billion by 2015, and that online pornography is now at $13 Billion and climbing.

Gamers and porngogglers apparently have time and money to burn. Are there not more like them out there who will get into an interactive scene with certain forms of fiction if authors and webmasters can build an interesting site? Isn't that the question?

Tim Barger said...

To qualify as an interactive book and regain your publishing rights only means that it can be read interactively but doesn't have to be used that way.

For the interactive element, perhaps something like the Feedjit live traffic map on your site could be modified so that when I'm reading my interactive Whiskey Sour, I'm logged in and can check the map to see who is reading now. I chime the reader in Paris, and if she's willing we can text/discuss the book live. Someone else notices us and they join in. Maybe Joe drops by some times. Like this blog, keep it decentralized and informal.

Unknown said...

I love your ideas, but didn't want to take over the comments section. I gave some more ideas for other genres on my blog. Things I want as a reader who regularly reads on her computer (I don't own an ereader). I will confess that as a Mom to young children, a scheduled chat time doesn't really appeal to me, but the idea of anonymous type messages going back and forth appeals to me. I'd love the idea of someone reading along with me, but don't need to really chat-chat...

But the ideas are exciting....

Selena Kitt said...

This is something my kids would like, which tells me 1) it's visionary and will probably catch on and 2) I'm old. :) My youngest daughter LOVES interactive books. Being dyslexic, she wants a more full experience than "just the words." But my older kids like that experience too. And with the amount of texting going on and chat during video games, I can see how interactive books are really the next wave.

I once had a fan tell me (back before Epub and Mobi formats were prevalent) that he would never buy a PDF because you couldn't change it. Why would you need to change anything in my book, I wondered? Well, he liked to add his own or delete some scenes, based on his particular kink. Now, granted, that's something specific to my genre probably - but fanfic is everywhere because people like continuing to immerse themselves with characters and in stories they love. Look at the Buffyverse. The fanfic (erotic or not) written about Harry Potter. In fact, my kids LOVE the James Potter series - and that's all fanfic.

You're onto something, Joe. I still think you're not QUITE there yet somehow. It's still missing a piece or two. But you're definitely on to something!

sabrina said...

The ongoing story concept sounds like the Perry Rhodan serial enterprise. I think if you start out writing that kind of story it could be really neat. Some story arcs benefit from the beginning-middle-end framework, though. For them, you could try multithreading. E.g. in a fixed old-style book Minor Character #1 goes offstage and then staggers back, three chapters later, with a stuffed pink platypus and refusing to explain where they've been, saying "it would take too long, and we have to save the world right now!" In the multithreaded book, a reader COULD find out all about the acquisition of the stuffed pink platypus, and the seedy librarian who collects EULAs, and their adventures in the steam tunnels of Potemkin U. If a reader wanted the linear version of the story, they could ignore the side-stories.

I am wondering about hazards involved with author-sanctioned fanfic, since I recall that being a big legal hassle for Mercedes Lackey when a fan claimed she used some fanfic in her published work. Not saying it couldn't work, but there would probably need to be some legal bulwarks erected to prevent that.

As long as people can toggle a switch to avoid the social stuff (and as a hardcore introvert, I struggle to Not Judge Other Lifestyles) that could be very cool too. I'd advocate a "no spoilers" flag, so readers could avoid them if they want to.

jtplayer said...

"And yet, here you are, on my blog, where you've posted hundreds of times."

Well sure Joe, and I enjoy participating here, though I really doubt it's been "hundreds" of times I've posted.

But the point stays the same, and time management is something we all deal with. And I just don't see the average person going for the active ebook thing.

You're ok with opposing opinions, right? Or does every alternate viewpoint require a snarky comeback by the esteemed host?

Unknown said...

Just a thought: Why not make it a subscription-based service? You could offer readers access to your entire library in all formats, plus audiobooks, commentary, social media access, bonus content, etc., for one low cost, say $2.99 per month. Of course, you'll have readers that will just want one book for $2.99, but you'll also have readers that'll buy a few books, enjoy your work, and then signup for a subscription.

Kim Mullican said...

You're so right. I remember our first microwave was about as big as a volkswagon!

I find myself excited watching how fast this industry is changing now...and the results of it.

I've been following for months, but only silently. I really enjoyed this post.

Danzig said...

This kinda sounds like you're taking a thriller novel and making it into an contiguous series. A sort of book form of a TV show - like Dexter or Castle

Nancy Beck said...

Have to agree with other here that an enhanced ebook isn't for me. (And I'm no Luddite.) I just want a good story that I can read whenever I want, whether it's an ebook or a paperbook.

I have an account on Goodreads, and I'll occasionally look at the discussions on Amazon, but I don't engage in discussions at either place.

I've always been a pretty private person (except when I post on my blog or post comments on other blogs :-))...but that's about it. A good story, some peace and quiet to read it, and I'm all set.

Nancy Beck said...

Whoops, forgot to add...I do the social media thing - Twitter, FB - when I feel like it (which isn't often).

If it's not fun, I don't do it. :-)

J. E. Medrick said...

That's certainly an interesting idea, but we definitely have not evolved to that point. The costs to maintain the wireless network and keep everyone linked up would be astronomical. Even if the book sold insane amounts, the provider would be hard-pressed to cover costs. I would think users would at least have to pay a monthly subscription fee to be able to use services like that. Also, someone mentioned the "toll-booth" methodology, a host of micro-payments everywhere you turn. That would be a huge turn-off for me, personally.

I'm also a solitary reader and generally only discuss books after I've finished them. I can't imagine signing into a book club and reading aloud to other people. It would feel incredibly awkward, like I was back in grade school ;)

Links to reviews I can see, links to discussions... maybe. Interactive to the level you propose? I don't see it taking off in the mass market, but maybe there is room in the niche.

YA: Cheat, Liar, Coward
Adult: Shackled

Unknown said...

This sounds like a great idea to me. I've been writing fanfiction and discussing intellectual properties since I was a teenager. It's a very common practice for media like TV shows and video games, so I never know what to do with myself when I read a non-blockbuster book and then can't find a community for it. I just have to ... sit here alone with a bunch of thoughts in my head? That's not how the Information Age works!

It might be hard getting discussion started on little-known books. Parties are always awkward when it's two or three early arrivals standing in a big empty room. But at least there'd be a designated place for series fans to hang out together if they want, and it'd help followings grow.

JA Konrath said...

Well sure Joe, and I enjoy participating here, though I really doubt it's been "hundreds" of times I've posted.

Maybe it just seems like hundreds. ;)

crw said...

You should be careful Joe. Someone could pay you lots of money for ideas like that and you could end up in a suit going to a sanitised office cell every day like a billion other ant workers.
On the other hand, I don't think you'd fit in. Keep up the writing and blogging; it's great.

jtplayer said...

Maybe it just seems like hundreds. ;)

Yeah, I'm sure it does.

Anyway, while I certainly have my opinions, I don't have that much to say. At least not here ;-)

But I applaud you for your forward thinking Joe. I just don't see the average book buyer going for it on a large scale.

The kids or young adults might dig it though.

Daniel said...

This kind of idea personally makes me shudder, but I understand the appeal for a lot of other readers. Fans usually want access to the object of their affection and to the other fans. It's true in every entertainment industry.

I definitely don't see this vision developing on an individual book basis. But it certainly could grow out of an existing social networking site like Goodreads, where you have an established internet identity as a reader.

The social networking site could provide the author and the readers with the tools you describe to help them connect at a deeper level. You'd be able to maintain multiple conversations with multiple friends on multiple books seamlessly.

Again, these features would so very not be for me, but as I'm a web database developer, it's an interesting thing to think about.

Anonymous said...

As they say, evolve or die. Publishers need to evolve.

JA Konrath said...

A few years ago, when I discussed ebooks on this blog, the majority seemed to dismiss and/or dislike them.

And yet, now ebooks outsell print.

"A book as a networked community? I could never go for that."

And yet, there are movie fan pages on Facebook with tens of thousands of friends, Goodreads has hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions?) of members, and I regularly get over 100 comments on my blog posts.

I've also sold over 300,000 ebooks.

I really think there's a connection...

Jacklyn Cornwell said...

There is a time and a place for every reading experience. Not everyone owns an iPhone or iPad, but many people do. Doesn't mean it's not valid. People find their niche and will find, through ideas like this, people who like the same niche. It business 101.

James H. Byrd said...

Your vision doesn't appeal to me personally, but every area of the entertainment industry has fans that want to connect with other fans and the artists that inspire them.

I don't see this vision being implemented at the book level though. I believe it will grow out of an existing social networking site like Goodreads. Goodreads will provide the authors and readers the tools they need to connect at the deeper level you describe. It becomes a matter of scaling the in

Readers will be able to maintain a single internet reader identity and use it to simultaneously participate in multiple conversations about multiple books with multiple other people.

Not my cup of tea, but as a web database developer, an interesting idea.

J. E. Medrick said...

And yet, there are movie fan pages on Facebook with tens of thousands of friends

But that doesn't make them active. Five of my Facebook friends also Like the page for "Sleep". That doesn't mean they go there and talk about their mattresses and which stuffing they prefer in their pillows. A lot of those people Like those things so their friends can see, or sometimes to get a lark. Showing support on a Facebook page you never have to look at again isn't the same as an interactive community :)

You regularly get over 100 comments because you have made yourself into a beacon of Indie Publishing! The new, hungry authors flock to you for wisdom ;) And, some for the banter.

YA: Cheat, Liar, Coward
Adult: Shackled

James H. Byrd said...

Oops. Accidentally posted twice after realizing I was on the wrong account. Sorry about that.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

Playing computer games is a solitary pastime. Yet is anyone here familiar with Lego Universe? My son is (and how). If he could have a similar experience with his favorite books, he would be thrilled.

You don't find the next thing by looking to the past.

Not usually, anyway. :)

Walter Knight said...

At the end of one of my books I added two sample chapters of a friend's book. The result was immediate sales for my friend.

Damn, if I was the mercenary type I would have charged for that free press. Wait, I am the mercenary type. Oh well.

I also place short stories as a kind of freebee at the end of my books, and plan to place my own sample chapters when I start writing in a new genre soon to draw new types of readers.

Yes, it would be nice if each Kindle book was it's own website. We're getting closer.

anthony said...

great ideas, this is great concept and i think it would get more people into reading books by that writer. ps--just read trapped for the second that book.

Jerry said...

I will settle for a high-resolution non-glare color screen. That way I can e-read books on photography, art, etc.

That and bending the trend of producing technical white papers as PDFs when they should be epub, mobi, etc.

As for all the social stuff, well if I were a social being I wouldn't read near so much. As I am, I read to escape socializing.

SL Clark said...

I'm finally near a computer, so I'd like to introduce you to

Might be the basics to your Active eBooks. Authors will rejoice when this works, because it isn't from a reader company or a publisher.

S Alini said...

A book has to be pretty outstanding for people to spend a lot of their time engaging with it in the fashion imagined by Joe. In any case lets all give thanks to the men and women who work hard to make these technologies possible. From those who spent hours studying math and science and computers, to entrepreneurs who come up with ideas, to those who invest capital to create these companies... thank you.
S Alini
The Strange Journal of the Boy Henry

Anonymous said...

that's called an app.

Eloheim and Veronica said...


Reading through the comments about Joe's ideas I was reminded about my friend's experience at the super bowl.

He reported, and this was years ago so I am sure it has just gotten more prevalent, TONS of people were on their cell phones sharing the experience with their friends.

People like to share and like to feel included. Social gaming is HUGE. Book clubs are popular. Combining the two is a sensible direction.

Amping it up with all the available technology is just bad ass.

Sure, not everyone wants it. That's just the way we are built.

I really want to embed my YouTube videos in my eBooks. I have over 200 of them. I guess Nook is supporting that now, but I haven't sorted it out yet.

I already provide external links to my website (and FB, Twitter, YT) for additional background information.

Heck, my books are non-fiction. The sky is the limit on this extra stuff for fiction writers.

I just had this idea. Use Twitter to have your main character share "thoughts" each day. There are characters from books I have read that I would love to hear more from. A Twitter account for a book character....someone must be doing that already!

Mystery writer? Do a Twitter/FB short story with a prize for folks that sort it out early and/or guess stuff or whatever.

I shared before that I started putting short quotes from my work on FB and I am getting a great response. It is creating community and increasing awareness of my books.

This week I have sold books to folks in Germany and South Korea!

Ohh, I'm feeling all creative today. Inspiring post Joe!

The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1, Vol. 2

Cathy Keaton said...

This sounds like how the anime and manga communities already operate. But, they work because they get a new episode, or chapter added to the story every week. Everyone has to wait for the next installment and they can discuss it with each other until their eyes bleed, until the next chapter/episode comes out.

You'd need to be on a schedule and become another Charles Dickens with your own serialized novel. Only thing is, that type of novel doesn't sell well right now. (If only it did, though! I'd be all over that.)

Anonymous said...

I could see a sponsored discussion forum working, but, wow, the fanfic angle would end...badly. They tend to be an insular group, and will turn into enraged wombats at the suggestion that someone's making profit off of them, even indirectly. (Especially for your books, which tend to generate an older audience that probably would have been in fandom longer and absorbed some of its social norms, as opposed to Harry Potter or Twilight where it might be the fic-person's first fandom experience.)

Anonymous said...

Wow...completely interesting ideas here. I'm one of the (few) ? people I've met who watches the Special Features disc portion on all of my DVD's. Some as good as those on Last Samurai I've watched over and over. The way in which a director chose to make his movie is often more interesting to me than the actual movie, esp if he admittedly fell far short of his vision.

The idea of doing this for a book is a knockout. But I do think multimedia books have a solid feature. No one talks about our aging population and the fact that it is ever more difficult to focus on small or enlarged print for hours. And, there are already $69 dollar readers avaialble in our homebuilding stores. I work with many older people who moved from books to movies long ago.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

You could always take Eric Flint's direction and PUBLISH the best of the fan fiction.

I hadn't looked at it in awhile. They are on volume 35!!!!!!!!!!!!

Grantville Gazette

"This is your guide to submitting to the Universe Annex, the section of the Grantville Gazette that publishes general science fiction and fantasy short-form stories.

There's a lot of information here, but it is intended to help you work with the process. This guide explains how to get to the Baen's Universe newsgroups, submit stories, and participate. It's not your ordinary "throw it over the transom and hope" process, but we like the more interactive, workshop approach. We hope you like it, too.

The submission process is a combination submission venue and writers' workshop.

The Universe Annex will emphasize discovering and developing new writers, as the Introducing section of Jim Baen's Universe did. However, any writer—at any level—is welcome to submit stories to us. But you need to follow the procedures we have in place."

Tara Maya said...

I suspect that a few years down the line, the social component will standard for ebooks. It will simply be built into the platform of the ereader, or perhaps the distributor's site (Amazon, B&N, Apple, etc.) Some books will attract more actual social interactions than others, but I bet the default will be built right in.

The Unfinished Song: Initiate B&N, Amazon US, Amazon UK

Clare Havens said...

This is the dream! AWESOME thinking outside the book!

Anonymous said...

This stuff is already done for tv shows.... Not to say that I've ever stpped by one ( for something on television (smallville)!

J.D. Pasco said...

Reminds me of James Cameron. He conceptualized and wrote Avatar many years ago but didn't have the technology until recently.

Great idea!

J. E. Medrick said...

@Cathy Keaton:
This sounds like how the anime and manga communities already operate. But, they work because they get a new episode, or chapter added to the story every week. Everyone has to wait for the next installment and they can discuss it with each other until their eyes bleed, until the next chapter/episode comes out.

Actually, that IS what I'm doing, only not on a weekly schedule, on a monthly, with novellas. Have a click-thru on the YA links in my signature. (I'll just say, it's going swimmingly. I'm not in record-breaking sales yet, but the day the new episodes come out, people are waiting and sales happen before it even says "Live" on my KDP page...)

YA: Cheat, Liar, Coward
Adult: Shackled

Kelly McClymer said...

When I was at the Tools of Change conf this fall, I ran into two separate people who are doing something similar. I can't remember the one, but the other is Readmill ( It sounds like a cool idea, although I had some of the same initial reactions as your commenters (reading is solitary, etc.).

After talking to these people, I became convinced that readers will be the new vetters, through groups like this. Who knows if I'll think that in a year, though. I can't believe the way my thinking has changed in the last six months!

Kelly McClymer said...

Oh! Duh. Where Readmill is nearing beta, Figment is up and running. It is aimed at teens, and does things I don't think Readmill intends at first (but it has been months since I talked to the guy, so who knows what they've changed since then).

David Wright said...

I love this!

As readers, there are those authors whose stuff we get into more than others. And for the authors I enjoy most, I'd dive right into any of these features. And I'm sure that most genre fans would also appreciate the bonus content and community involvement.

This sort of concept might even be more significant for nonfiction books, especially those on constantly evolving ideas and trends.

Thank you for this thought provoking post.

Gregory said...

I'm with a couple of other people in the comments. I want to completely read a book before I discuss with someone...I don't want to discuss it with someone before I'm finished or even as I'm reading. However, a book that offers more interactivity does intrigue me...kind of like the extras on DVDs and Blu-rays.

Nightcry Official Site

Joshua said...

I like the idea, though I don't think Joe's particular idea will fly (sorry Joe).

What would be cool is if people could comment on specific parts of the book. They could send live feedback to the author, and the author could edit and publish, and it would be live instantly (it would be easy to do this; instead of storing the ebook on the kindle, store it directly on the author's website).

Another cool idea (for fan fic at least) would be "What if?". Instead of what the author had happen, a person could branch out from a certain portion of the book and create their own "what if" scenario.

So if the author has the main character go into a house to hang out, someone could create their own little story exploring what might have happened if the character didn't go into the house.

And of course, video games. Just imagine if we brought back text-based adventures, except the player was a minor character interacting with the story.

One thing I do see happening though, is chapters or certain portions of the book being "linked". If a person clicked on that link, it would bring up a pop-up speech-bubble with reviews and discussions on that particular chapter or section of text. It'd be a great way to find out specifically what your fans like and dislike about your writing and works.

Finally, expanding on the fan-fiction idea, the author could post challenges for people to write a fanfic for a specific scenario in the book. Or the author could role-play with their readers. Or what have you, the possibilities are endless.

Kate Madison, YA author said... That's just one site. There are literally hundreds of people who don't actually want to make money from their writing like we all do.

Amazon owns shelfari, probably bc goodreads wouldn't sell.

Go on twitter and search YA book blogger-- everyone wants to talk about what they have read.

Josie is right, tho. You can see the generational difference here in the comments.

And Kobo already has a $99 ereader. I don't think amazon will wait until xmas-- Labor day maybe?

Vook hasn't taken off bc it mixes words and video. Video defines it for you. Text is just the script and lets you be the director in your own head.

@JTplayer - yes there are people like you. But their existence doesn't deny the fact that there are probably more NOT like you. Aren't there more kids and young folks than old? Who love to spend money and chat?

Joe, is this the picture of Amazon in 5 years? 3?

Great post, Joe! You rock.

Kate Madison
Author of upcoming title: Empty

Kate Madison, YA author said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coolkayaker1 said...

Being an owner of a Kindle 1 (yep, back when even Joe Konrath was publishing only in print), and K2 and K3 and iPod Touch and now iPad2, and I read about three novels a week, I can tell you that the traditional, Guttenberg press printed book will make a giant comeback within two years. I mean, who wants to read e-ink on tablets?

I miss the good old days, when I held a four lb. library copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shugged over my face in bed, all greasy from Pringles on the paper corners, and turning the page only to find someone's dried sneeze snot in the middle binding. Those good old days will make a comeback, I assure you all, because people just "like the feel of a book".

Signed, William Shakespeare.

Mark Asher said...

"And yet, there are movie fan pages on Facebook with tens of thousands of friends, Goodreads has hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions?) of members, and I regularly get over 100 comments on my blog posts.

"I've also sold over 300,000 ebooks.

"I really think there's a connection...

The connection is 300,000 sales is likely to lead to a popular blog.

What about the indie writer whose books sell 30-50 copies a month each? How will each of those books be a successful social network?

Stephen Leather said...

Wow. Great post, Joe. But what I can't work out is where you find the time to put together such a great blog AND write your books so quickly. I'm thinking twins, or a team of elves slaving through the night..... I get tired just thinking about your output.... Loving Draculas by the way.... damn you guys write a good book....

Shéa MacLeod said...

As a reader, I loathe this idea. For me, reading is a solitary activity. Something I do to get away and relax by myself. I am not interested in reading with other people, etc.

I do enjoy posting or reading the odd review, finding out more about how the book was created, or touching base with the author. But I want to do that OUTSIDE of the book. Also there are VERY few books I'd want to commit this amount of time and energy to.

Granted, not everyone is like me. I guess I'm a bit old school. :-) I can see this sort of interactive reading experience being very popular with some readers. The Twilighters, for intstance, would be all over this sh... er... stuff.

As a writer, I'm very interested in the concept and can see something like this happening in the future, at least for extremely popular books. Sort of like a holodeck. Now THAT I'd like to see. :-)

Coolkayaker1 said...

I want author trading cards. Like the Kiss Army cards I collected as a kid!

Rik said...

Living book - yeah, I've been writing/publishing a living book of poems on my website for close on a decade now. Not as developed as Joe's concept, of course, but then I don't charge an entry fee.

It must be good, or at least of public interest - the British Library started archiving it back in January.

I still can't shake the feeling that my living book is more betamax than vhs. But then niche is the new cool, innit.

Glynn James said...
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Glynn James said...
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Nancy Beck said...

I just had this idea. Use Twitter to have your main character share "thoughts" each day. There are characters from books I have read that I would love to hear more from. A Twitter account for a book character....someone must be doing that already!

I'm pretty sure John Locke is doing that. :-)

Phil Hall said...

We're already seeing that price drop. Over the last weekend, I just picked up an Aluratek Libre 7" color eBook reader. It also plays videos, music, and displays PDFs. All for $69.

Not bad, if you ask me.

badas2010 said...

I'm one of the older generation so that's all too complicated for me, but I can see that my children would possibly be interested, but - and here's the clue - my teenage grandchildren would absolutely love the idea.

You've always been ahead of your time Joe and now you've been and gone and done it again.

P.S. You say that most people who read your blog don't buy your books, and in my case that's true, so come on, what would you or anyone else on here, recommend that I read first?

Anonymous said...

Actually, most of the technology already exists and is widely used - but not for books. The interactive/social web site parts are very similar to a Gaming Add-on. No matter what online/connected game you are playing you can go to a site called "TeamSpeak", setup an account (free last time I looked) and pretty much have an open forum for people invited to your "Channel" or one or more people can drop out to a chat room. A lot of the games are team based, or can be, now a days and lots of gamers use this site, interactively while playing there game to coordinate attacks, set strategies, educate new team members etc...This could readily be adapted to Joe's idea. You wouldn't be able to do this on most dedicated eReaders, but it couldbe run today from most Tablets, and damn near every PC/Mac connected to the internet. Further, is it is "too busy" as one commenter said, you can just read and watch - you don't have to participate. And, it belies J.J.'s worry about "What Platform" you build it on, since it is the Internet, it's not built on Kindle or Microsoft or Mac or ePub. It's the internet.

Andrew said...

I wonder if this idea dovetails with Amazon's "The Domino Project" But Imagine taking it further where everyone is an author and not only is this a place to talk about your book, but an incubator for more books as well as a place for authors to get beta reads, perhaps get one off services like proofreading, as well as a potential "marketplace" for book services.
Imagine logging in - seeing all the potential "jobs" you have that day of editing, contributing, etc and you also post your own needs and feedback.

Edward G. Talbot said...

I see a lot of people saying they find reading to be a relatively solitary experience and that they wouldn't want this kind of sharing. Personally, I agree 100%.

And my personal preference is completely irrelevant to Joe's point. The biggest mistake we as authors can make is assuming everyone else thinks like us. Joe's looking at what people are already doing and figuring out how to hook into it.

Now, he may be wrong about some of the details. Or it may be that the people who are already doing it represent a tiny fraction of the readers of his book and the rest wouldn't be interested enough to make development of a plug and play tech structure worthwhile. But we don't really know that one way or the other. Social media has proven to be a pretty compelling business, and hooking into it seems like the logical next step.

Karen Woodward said...

Either way, isn't it worth your $2.99?

Yes! I'd love that, both as a reader and a writer.

I had never thought of a book possibly being the hub of a community, the way a webpage or Facebook page could be. It makes sense, though. It would be wonderful!

Roguecyber said...

From a technical perspective none of this would actually be very difficult, time consuming or expensive. You could probably get 99% of the way there using HTML5 to cobble together eFiction, Coppermine, phpBB and Wordpress.

As for who wants this? Well goodreads just announced a book club for their members. Currently tho most of the 33,000 groups on goodreads have some sort of monthly book club. There are about 500,000 stories up on about Harry Potter(naurto 275,000. Twilight 150K). I read an uncompleted Harry Potter Fanfic the other day that had a "read count" of over 3 million and over 12,000 reviews. So yeah think people like interactivity.

A J Hawke said...

The future is now. A great look into the near future. It will be fun to watch. I would like to see an update in a year or so and compare how much has become a reality. We do live in interesting times.

Thanks, Joe, for a lively post,

Jack D. Albrecht Jr. said...

Wow… Um…
If they are still angry with you two after reading this, I think they need to learn to read again!

My blog: Osric’s Wand Blog Spot

Anonymous said...

This is a great idea.

For a rough first draft you could set up a website with a forum for each chapter, and put a link to the forum at the end of each chapter in the book.

It would be great for you to take a chance on doing this with one of your books.

Kelley Mitchell said...

It's comical how many people posted that they want a simple book and that this idea is too much for them, and yet here they are posting comments on your blog being part of a community following an author.

Robin Sullivan said...

Hey Joe,
Interesting post as always. Also heard you were at DIY today? I looked for the bulls eye but didn't see ya. Looking forward to BEA - it should be interesting based on all that is going on. See ya!

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Sofie Bird said...

I had a notion for a website that did pretty much this (and shelved it because I want to write, not run an online company), but aggregated for all authors. (My idea was a tiered subscription service with the books included, but the rest is the same).

All the people who're rambling on about how much effort and work it'd be to set this up (yes, it would, that's why I'm not doing it) and how it wouldn't work for small-time authors - the point is that you wouldn't set this up for just one book, or just one author.

You partner with some big guns and run it for hundreds of authors, thousands of books. Let the community aspect expand from one book to fan clubs, study groups, personal friendships and book clubs, let people recommend books, other authors. This isn't just a single-ebook service, this is cross-breeding facebook, amazon and goodreads and plugging it into your e-reader.

I think you're spot-on, here. While it's not a service that I would use as a reader (no time, though I would like the author-commentary for some of my favourite authors) it gets me totally jazzed as a writer. (Until no one turns up for my live chat. Sigh.)

One caveat: you'd have to put a time-limit on your personal support of active ebooks. Otherwise an author who publishes three or four books a year will rapidly find social duties chewing up their time.

Rose said...

This must be a record. Since Friday the Blogger bug has eaten 3 posts by me. I think they are the ones marked "Comment Deleted" author removed.

Anyway. I pointed out the success of sites like J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood site where the fans get a lot of squee from Ward providing extras not in the books and posting "in character" as her vampire characters. The fact that I have heard about this means it is a success because I really can't stand Ward's books.

Also, Second Life still must be up and running because I saw where two people were suing each other over something that happened there. If it were possible to allow people to roam around in the book world virtually, there would probably be interest in that.

Also, one point-- Harry Potter fandom and Twilight Fandom weren't driven by the very young but by people in their 20's, 30's, and 40's.

Unknown said...

EBook 2.0 - I like it. Nice idea Joe.

As to $99.00 EReaders for Christmas, I wouldn't be surprised if we see $49.99 EReaders for Christmas.

I got booted from one forum for telling people that book stores will be gone within two years (except for the specialty shops - they'll always be around). It got people really upset when I wouldn't back down on the issue. It seems like no one understands basic economics any more.


Sol said...

Sorry for the shameless self-promotion, but this tech you describe is actually "LIVE" today at

every book has it's own discussions and you can make a social network (a GROUP with members) around any single book (or groups) - with it's own URL.

We throw in the ability to annotate in the margins AND share those with others... and lots more

and let me know what you think!

Meliss said...

Sort of like the book version of the interactive TV in Fahrenheit 451. I love it!

Jennifer L Hart said...

I absolutely love this concept, Joe. I just released my first self pubbed ebook, Stellar Timing, today. It's a blend of fantasy and futuristic and I've spent hours with campaign cartographer designing maps that I'd love to include within the ebooks. But not just maps, gaming scenarios too. Who wants to be the sorci, the dragons, the space prince. Man, talk about a geek's dream come true.

Brian Triber said...

I'm really hesitant about this. As it is, I get very little time to actually glue posterior to seat for actual writing. Does this mean authors would have to spend more time interacting with their fans, and less time writing? As it is, I split my day into a writing block and a PR block — a time for pantsing, and a time for facebooking, web site updating, blogging, and tweeting. If Isaac Asimov were dealing with interactive eBooks and social networking (not to mention filtering the spam out of a thread), he wouldn't have produced half of his 500 books.

Interactive eBooks may seem like a great idea at first, but then again, if it impacts a writer's productivity, is it really such a technological gain? I suppose it's a case of wait and see, and figuring out what's right for the individual. Still, I'm a bit suspicious about any next great thing.

BOOTY said...

I have to agree with the majority of the people here. When I read a book, I see the action happening in my head, like a private movie. I don't want to know other people's opinions, other books the characters have been in, any part of their past that isn't included in what I've read, or anything else. Reading, for me, is an escape from the world, not an opportunity to bring the world into my book.


Jason D. Morrow said...

Wow. That's interesting. I think it will be a while until that happens though.

It seems to me that the average reader doesn't want to get into that. We buy ereaders so we don't have to carry a library of books with us.

I think aspects of your thought process through this would be fantastic. I just don't think most people would find the time to do it.

I'm reading my nook on the city bus, in a park, at a coffee shop, then...back to reality. But, as I said, very interesting.

J. E. Medrick said...

Well, in the interest of fairness I have to ask - have you seen this about the new Kobo reader? A step in your direction?

YA: Cheat, Liar, Coward
Adult: Shackled

Loren DeShon said...

NGP (Next Generation Publisher)

Judith Briles said...

hmm.. being in this advanced world would mean a lot of change and improvement in how we live and do things and that includes reading. Though reading simply in a hardbound book would let you be away from the "digital", still, "digitizing" would mean convenience for you. You can read anywhere you like without carrying a five hundred page book. It's a actually a good idea. I would love to share my emotions and thoughts on the book I read with people who actually enjoyed the book similar as I did.

Anonymous said...

I'm a year late to this party, but this is fantastic, Joe! I am excited both to experience this as a reader and do it as a writer.

Jacob Chastain said...

This is absolutely brilliant. They key is innovation, the lock is customer service... or maybe the other way around. Either way I get where you are heading and I wanted to say I am right there with you. I just met with my marketing partner and graphic designer and have come up with great ideas like this that aim to bring books and stories in to the modern era and beyond.

The time is now. See you soon at the top, Mr. Konrath.

Joel Lovell said...

Hi Joe,

Allen Appel pointed me your way. Some of what you were talking about on multi-media interactive content reminded me of a game I used to play online called AmberMUSH. I know it helped me improve my writing greatly - I was not surprised to find out that a few successful authors came from a group of players (I hope to join their ranks). Here is a nice article about it:

What would be cool, is a real-time collaborative writing experience, a shared world, where the frame work of the story, driven by the author who creates the roles and the 'scenes' allows people to take on those characters and interact with the protagonist - minor or major characters - as virtual actors so to speak. Send me an email if you are curious, I'll post a 'log' session of what I'm talking about from a game session I played.


Joel Lovell

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