Shouting about books
Calvin Reid reports on the BookShout technology that makes it possible for readers to import books from any platform, including Kindle, to read in one location.In a move that will delight consumers, irritate some ebook retailers, and focus attention on its platform, BookShout, a social reading and book retail application, is introducing new technology that will allow its users legally to import their previous and future ebook purchases into their BookShout account, free of charge, no matter where they were purchased. Announced at TOC (Tools of Change) Frankfurt, the service enables users to import ebooks purchased at Amazon and Barnes & Noble into their BookShout accounts and have all their ebook titles available in one location.
The new function addresses one of the biggest drawbacks of digital reading at the moment: consumer ebook purchases are walled off with DRM and must be read in different e-reading applications depending on the retailer they were purchased from. The new BookShout function will allow consumers to organise their ebooks as they choose in the BookShout application.
But BookShout is also an independent ebook retailer, and its business model and "ebooks-all-in-one-place technology" will likely attract the attention of major book publishers as well as book consumers. Currently, about 250 publishers offer titles for sale on BookShout, including four of the Big Six American houses (Penguin and S&S are not involved), totalling about 100,000 books. Only books available for sale via BookShout will be aggregated. "Our agreements allow consumers to aggregate their books onto our platform. The publishers just want to make sure that the books have been purchased," explains BookShout founder Jason Illian.
Its move to make consumer titles available in one spot has attracted the support of publishers such as O'Reilly Media. O'Reilly Media's Publisher (and Tools of Change President) Joe Wikert says: "We are 100% supportive of BookShout's push to free readers and empower publishers. We will continue to work with BookShout to allow readers to experience and define ebooks in new ways." Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson, agrees with Wikert: "BookShout continues to innovate in ways that support the entire publishing ecosystem. It's exciting to see BookShout and publishers co-operating in a way that is good for all readers."
Founder Illian says BookShout is "knocking down the walls that ebook retailers have established and putting users in control of their digital bookshelves". He emphasises that "there is nothing illegal about this, it's not Napster. Consumers can aggregate the ebooks they own." He continues: "Retailers are putting these blocks up, making their ebooks platform specific. We're just enforcing the [consumers'] contract. This is Joe Reader's content, can't he read it anywhere he wants?"
Originally launched as a social reading platform in the Christian book market, BookShout is now being promoted to the larger book market. The application allows its users to communicate with each other, compare reading lists and notes, form book clubs and purchase ebooks that can be read in the BookShout environment. And while BookShout allows its users to form book clubs and read books collectively online, users cannot read the book in BookShout unless they have purchased a copy.
While Illian emphasises that the service is completely legal, he also acknowledges the possibility of lawsuits. "It's all legal but that doesn't mean we won't get sued," he says. When consumers buy ebooks they are actually licensing the content - not buying the ebooks outright as they would a physical book - and that licence comes with restrictions. But Illian insists that the ability to aggregate the ebook content is legal as well as empowering to book consumers. "It's all above board," he says, noting that BookShout has the technical capacity to import ebook content from any platform. BookShout is starting with Amazon and B&N, he says, and will likely add Kobo next.
"There are no legal issues," he maintains, while also acknowledging that e-tailers have not been notified about the technology, or BookShout's plans to use it. He also states that retailers cannot block the service. "Amazon may not like it," Illian says, adding that: "We're prepared to talk about all of this with retailers, but we're consumer-focused." And pointing to BookShout's book retailing service, he says that the company also wants to use it "to give publishers better data, which books are selling, what consumers are sharing, and offer a higher level of discoverability. Stuff to help them sell more books."