bookcrossing.com and the future of the book 12.27.2005, 12:39 PM
posted by lisa lynch
I came across an an interesting overview piece on the future of the book in Global Politician, an online magazine that largely focuses on reporting underreported global issue stories. The author of the piece, economist and political consultant Sam Vaknin, covers much of the terrain we usually cover here at the Institute, but he also make an interesting point about how the online book-swapping collective Bookcrossing has been turning paper books into "networked books" over the past four years. Vaknin writes:
Members of the BookCrossing.com community register their books in a central database, obtain a BCID (BookCrossing ID Number) and then give the book to someone, or simply leave it lying around to be found. The volume's successive owners provide BookCrossing with their coordinates. This innocuous model subverts the legal concept of ownership and transforms the book from a passive, inert object into a catalyst of human interactions. In other words, it returns the book to its origins: a dialog-provoking time capsule.
I appreciate the fact that Vaknin draws attention to the ways in which books can be conceptually transformed by ventures such as BookCrossing even while they remain physically unchanged. Currently, there are only about half a million BookCrossing members, making the phenemenon somewhat less popular than podcasting, but given that most BookCrossing members are serious readers -- and highly international -- the movement is still noteworthy.
Donna on December 27, 2005 4:41 PM:
It's also important to look at book swapping websites, a new online phenomenon started by a site called ReadItSwapIt in the UK (the url is http://www.readitswapit.co.uk). Members can swap books with other users over the internet. It's a new way to acquire books. since readitswapit started in 2003, approximately five more book swap sites have gone live in the UK, although ReadItSwapIt remains the only 100% free site. Bookcrossing members use the site to release books too.
bob stein on December 28, 2005 9:40 AM:
i see bookcrossing as a nifty recycling effort, perhaps one-step behyond garage sales or used bookstore. and i don't understand why Vaknin believes that the bookcrossing project "transforms the book from a passive, inert object into a catalyst of human interaction In other words, it returns the book to its origins: a dialog-provoking time capsule."
For it to be start to look like an aspect of the networked book concept, bookcroosing would need to include a conscious effort to enable conversation between readers, e.g. people could put in their email addresses and/or host chat rooms about the book.
lisa lynch on December 28, 2005 10:12 AM:
Actually, bookcrossing does have two features relevant to this: first, there are very active forums on the site focused on specific books (with thousands of posts); second, books which are sent out are linked to 'journals' which both track the physical travels of the book and record each reader's reflections. Readers are indeed identified by user name, location and email, so that it's possible to respond directly to someone's thoughts about a book. Granted, the journal conversations often aren't very sophisticated, but looking at the "community" section on the site reveals that bookcrossing enables its users to create communities of shared interest around both individual books and genres of books.
bob on December 28, 2005 10:46 AM:
ah! now i understand. thank you for following up.