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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

5 ideas for the new ebook landscape

Steven Johnson wrote one of the most relevant article about the future of ebooks. If you have not read it, I would advice you to do so if you are interested this market.
(Side note: I am advising a startup in the ebook market and they are working on one of the key value propositions highlighted in the article: the ability to make passages and sentences the key unit of consumption rather than the whole book. Such a change is non-trival. Just ask Twitter.)

If you read the trends correctly, there are actually a number of opportunities a startup can pursue. Here is my list of 5 ideas:

1) Helping content to move across different readers and applications
I believe that ebook readers will proliferate. There will be many devices and applications that enable ebooks to be read. While this creates complications, it also opens up an opportunity for someone to create a service for authors to 'upload once' and distribute across difference services. Think of Tubemogul for ebooks.

2) People powered distribution
Once ebooks allow users to annoate and share passages/sentences that inspires or infuriate them, these passages become a form of distribution that is community powered. We need a bit.ly + tipjar service that enables these linked passages to be tracked in real time as well as to provide direct purchases (through a simply hashtag for example).

3) Infrastructure that enables innovations in search and discovery of ebooks
With users sharing their annotated passages, they represent an alternate way that books can be searched and discovered. The first order opportunity is to build a Digg or Del.licio.us equivalent that surfaces the most interesting annotated passages. What is more interesting is to create a Twitter-like 'dumb' pipe that focuses on moving the data around. The aim is to allow third party enables developers to create different interface clients and innovate around how books can be searched and discovered.

4) Community building tools
Each ebook is a platform for authors to build their communities. We can learn from companies such as Mybloglog and develop simple applications that organises communities around ebooks. Alternatively, there might also be a need for a third party commenting system that aggregates comments left by readers on the same ebook across different readers.

5) Wiki for annoated passages
Ebooks can be the starting point for our information discovery. Use that to build powerful tools for user generated context. Consider the following scenario:

- as you are reading an ebook, you come across a concept, a person, a piece of art, a travel destination, a statistic etc that you want more information on.
- you search for it via the ebook search function, which relies on Google to retrieve the relevant information for you.
- you read these information and saves the relevant ones through a link of your selected passage in the ebook.
- that passage effectively becomes a window to a wiki page that hosts all your related articles and blog posts.
- if you choose to share it, other readers reading the same ebook can see the link and the additional articles that you have saved
- if thousands of peope do that, the ebook becomes the context which information is organised around.