Preserving the physical book by using social networks

On: October 18, 2010
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About Emina Sendijarevic
Some find a great usefulness and comfort in new media, while others complain about the loss of privacy, intimacy and sociability. Technology in my opinion challenges people to rethink their position towards old standards, it challenges them to deconstruct the concepts they thought were embedded in old values and traditions. Instead of blaming or praising new media, we should see new media as an introspective tool for managing our world. New media (qualitative) research and social media analytics are a way to explore and understand every-day-real-life human interaction.


Some day I will read from a Kindle, Ipad or another eBook reading device. But for now, I can’t imagine how the ‘feel of a book’ can be replaced by something digital. I love to turn pages, I love to feel a slight dispair when the last paper of the book approaches and the end of a good book is in sight. The stains between the lines, the dog-ears, it’s all a part of the reading experience to me.

It sounds like I’m talking about my pet instead of my book. Don’t worry, I know I’m nostalgic. Taken into account the speed in which CD’s were replaced by mp3-players, I will regret this blogpost in a while when digital books will be mainstream as well. For now my answer to ‘How can a digital book replace one with a physical history?’, remains ‘It can NEVER’.

My blogpost will therefore not be about digital publishing. Instead I will try to find alternatives to acquiring a book through new media, meaning alternatives in which the physical book, the book as we know it, is still preserved.

Book swapping, crossing and credits
The websites that I would like to adress today are those that enable users to actually read physical books without having to buy them. You can group those websites into three categories in my opinion:

‘Set your book free’ invites the bookowner to ‘set his book free’. You sign up, print out a particular code and attach it to the book you would like to set ‘free’. The person who finds the book can comment on your book using the code (how they have found the book and what they think of it, etc.) This is the so-called reward for the bookowner: getting feed-back on his book.

‘Earn your book’
Title trader, BookMooch, Switchplanet and Textbook Revolt however deploys a credit system. Sign up, create a list of books you’d like to offer. Wait until someone requests your book and send it to them in return for one credit or point. That point/credit is used to request someone else’s book.

‘Swap your book’
Found on Read it Swap it, Swapz, Swaptree and Paperback Swap. Eliminates the necessity of credits, because books are swapped between users. You request a swap with someone’s book. If the other user can’t find anything interesting on your online bookshelf, they can deny your request and you’ll have to find someone else to swap with. Usually some matching is involved in motivating users to swap. Paperback swap also has a cool wrapping you have to print out and wrap around the book you’re sending. Mind that if you simply don’t have any interesting books to offer, there’s no way to participate in the network, meaning trying to swap Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, pray, love’ will isolate you from the online book society – as it should. Having a exquisite taste in literature is important in earning respect in the social network.

But does it really work: deliberating, crediting and swapping books?
The fora of all these book sites, give me the strong impression that it’s not really about books, but about credits and respect. In fact when the first book credit website went bankrupt, users that had a lot of credits were left with nothing. They went nuts in expressing their feelings of anger and frustration. But then again: why were they collecting more than 50 credits in the first place? Obviously the goal here wasn’t reading, but instead collecting credits and earning respect.

It’s obvious that trust is a big issue. All these sites are trying to develop a strategy in which trust is build up over time.  And indeed, only time will tell if it’ll be worth it in the end.

Having written this post, it seems to be a lot easier buying a Kindle and downloading an e-Book instead of swapping and trusting someone with my physical book. However this post, I think, is more concerned with the issue of trust and how it’s intertwined with the notion of ‘respect’, ‘credibility’ and the system that needs to support these complex concepts. For now, it’s too soon to make any conclusions, but I believe this will become more and more of importance as digital publishing is going to advance in the overal book sector. Until then, I will continue my old-fashioned ways.

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