Bookworms of the world, unite!

13 Nov 2007

Social networking and user generated content uploads aren't just for videos and music. Mobile book communities are also springing up and - in one case - spawning movie deals

Mobile books may not be a sexy as videos and music, but they have two things in common. One, they're ruthlessly efficient time-killers. Two, you can build communities around them.

For evidence, check out Wattpad, a Toronto-based outfit that runs a free, ad-funded site for mobile users looking for something to read on their handsets: books, short stories, jokes, news articles, Simpsons quotes, whatever passes the time. Like YouTube, it's all user generated, and it's all shareable - subscribers can upload text, comment on them, and forward them to friends. Can't find something you want to read‾ Post a request, and with any luck a fellow Wattpad user will upload it.

Crucially, Wattpad thinks global. Because it's an offdeck Web-based service, it's available worldwide, and users can post in almost any language (almost 20 languages are represented so far).

Wattpad founder and CEO Ivan Yuen admits that it's not easy getting people to embrace the idea of reading anything besides text messages on a mobile, but reckons the chief barrier has been a poor experience and even worse selection of material.

"I knew that by building a community around mobile reading, we can address the problem of content generation and discovery, and allow us to focus on developing the best mobile reading platform," Yuen says.

Results so far after six months of operation: nearly 15 million pages delivered to mobile devices at press time, over 65,000 works submitted and over 250,000 downloads.

The downside is that, like any UGC site, there are potential issues with users uploading copyrighted material, and as we've seen with the controversy over Google's Book Library scanning project, book publishers are just as worried about digital piracy as Viacom is about YouTube. Yuen says Wattpad works directly with publishing agencies to address this issue.

Yuen also notes that Wattpad serves as a platform for aspiring self-published writers to showcase their work. Posting your novel on Wattpad may or may not guarantee a book deal. But it's not unheard of.

In Japan, social networking site Maho i-Land (Magic Island) not only has a section where aspiring novelists can write e-books for mobile phones, it also acts as a literary agent for members who draw interest from publishers.

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