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Mark Watkins is a serial entrepreneur, passionate reader, and creator of the Bookship app, recently shortlisted by The Bookseller for BookTech Company of the Year. As creator of a social reading app, Mark knows more than a thing of two about the topic, so I invited him to add his perspective today on the blog.

Because Reading is Better with Friends by Mark Watkins

Books have always been social. Whether it’s discussing a book in your book club, or just chatting about the latest bestseller at a cocktail party, people love to talk about books. But reading has rarely been social — the experience of reading is typically solitary.

Mobile phones and social media have made most every other activity of life social. Social media is awash in book-related content, from Goodreads reviews to Instagram book cover snapshots and #fridayreads on Twitter. But while that content may inspire you to read a particular book, it usually doesn’t enhance either your relationships or the reading experience itself.

Increasingly people hunger for authentic engagement and meaningful interactions with their friends, family and co-workers. Books provide a natural context for deepening relationships.

I recently read Dune with my son, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City with my daughter, and Wind, Sand and Stars with a dear friend. I read books I wouldn’t have otherwise read, got more from the books I would have read anyway, and deepened my relationships with people I care about.

With those experiences in mind, I created Bookship, a social reading app, so you can share your reading experiences with your family, friends and co-workers, and build deeper relationships through books.

I define Social Reading as the act of collaboratively reading a book with other people, sharing thoughts and experiences along the way. That includes, but is certainly not limited to, traditional book clubs. While writing reviews on a site such as Goodreads is a social act, it’s not what I have in mind here.

A Social Reading experience provides benefits that solo reading does not:

  • It creates and enriches relationships through a shared reading experience
  • It increases knowledge and perspective — other readers will bring knowledge to a book I may not have (especially true for historical fiction!)
  • Gentle peer pressure helps you finish (& start!) hard books

Book clubs have traditionally filled this need. By some estimates 2% of England and 5 million Americans have belonged to a book club. But book clubs have shortcomings. They often devolve into “wine clubs” — books being the pretext for getting together, but only a fraction of the meeting devoted to discussing the book. Many of the thoughts, emotions and reactions are lost between the time the book is read and when the meeting occurs. Often some people cannot attend, and friends separated by distance can’t participate. Because of time limits, not everyone can share their viewpoint to their satisfaction.

Existing solutions

Readers of A Writer of History may have seen these previous posts describing past social reading solutions.

A new generation of services are providing for variants of social reading, with varying degrees of success. Wattpad is a wildly successful social reading & storytelling website/app, with a community of 45 million people. Readers comment “inline” on the text of short stories posted there; authors compete for popularity and feedback. But while engagement is quite high, the content is mostly short stories proprietary to Wattpad; books per se aren’t available, so sharing your experience reading All The Light We Cannot See isn’t possible. Glose is a social eReader app where readers can highlight their favorite passages from books and share with friends. But it requires a proprietary eReader — one has to buy one’s books from Glose — and it is eBook-only. In both cases, comments are typically publicly available, not confined to a private chat area. Book Club by Book Movement (an app for book clubs) is focused more on logistics (scheduling meetings, voting on books) than on discussion, and is only available on iOS, leaving more than half of us unable to participate.

Some common themes emerge: an insistence on a digital / eBook format, proprietary readers and content, and public commentary.

This isn’t how we read. What of the 60% of us who read physical books? Those who get their books from the library? The growing number of us listening to audio books? Those who want a private conversation? We are left out.

We developed Bookship to address these needs. Recognizing the ubiquity of mobile phones and current social media trends, we designed Bookship to be mobile-first, camera friendly, and emoji ready, and available for all major platforms — iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire devices — yet accessible for those reading physical books.

Bookship acts like a virtual book club. Invite people by email and start reading together — it doesn’t matter whether they’re reading the eBook, a physical book or an audiobook. Share thoughts, photos, quotes, and links, and reply to your friends’ posts. You’ll get notifications when your friends post and reminders to keep up with your reading.

We make inventive use of the camera on mobile phones to bridge the gap between the physical world of books and the digital world of social media. For example, you can extract quotes or create virtual highlights from a physical book just by taking a picture of the page.

Bookship can be downloaded at https://www.bookshipapp.com (it’s free), and if you’re interested in more, there’s a short video here: https://youtu.be/1fg20AgXI5U.

Reading is better with friends. Books and social reading have the chance to bring people together in new and interesting ways. We hope Bookship can be a part of that.

Many thanks, Mark, for sharing your passion for reading and your thoughts on social reading. I hope Bookship has great success. By the way, when I asked Mark about the name, he said Bookship, as in “relationship” or “friendship”, but for books :)”

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.