Last month I wrote about the World eBook Fair, which was offering one-third of a million e-books to the public for free downloading. There are 3 days left (it runs until Aug. 4), so there's still time to visit http://www.worldebookfair.com. Since then, several book-related sites have grabbed my attention—at an especially appropriate time for those of you who might still be reading while on vacation. Two of the sites relate to locating and organizing books while the other stretches our thinking on the nature of a book.
BookFinder.com is a Web site that allows customers to search an inventory of more than 100 million books for sale from booksellers in more than 50 countries. It claims to provide the world's largest searchable book inventory. (It's nice to know there's more than just Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com out there.) BookFinder.com recently announced a revamped pricing structure that presents book shoppers with a single price figure, combining the book's price plus shipping and handling. It is designed to make it easy for customers to compare the real cost of a book from multiple suppliers.
Here's the rationale, according to founder Anirvan Chatterjee: "We've noticed significant changes in the pricing landscape in the used and rare book markets. On one hand, we're seeing a flood of very cheap titles, often less than $0.25, where the seller makes the profit from the shipping charges. On the other hand, we're also seeing increasingly price-competitive international bookselling, where it can be cheaper to buy a book from another country, in spite of the relatively larger shipping cost. Bundling shipping prices can make clear the real cost of a $0.01 book, while making it a little less scary for a Californian considering buying a title from London."
Once you've found your books, you can use the cool site called LibraryThing to catalog them. Not only that, the site offers social networking by letting people catalog together and connect with other people based on the books they share. The site was featured in an article in The Wall Street Journal in late June and has generated a great deal of buzz in the blogosphere.
The tool is a Web-based application for cataloging personal book collections. It matches a user's input book titles, authors, or ISBNs against Amazon and more than 45 major library catalogs, including the Library of Congress. Once users create a catalog, they can then search, sort, edit, apply tags (like on del.icio.us and Flickr), rate, and write book reviews. One cool feature is that LibraryThing can analyze a collection and then suggest books a user might like. Users can enter 200 books for free or as many as they like for $10 per year or $25 for life.
The site, which launched in August 2005, now claims more than 4.3 million books on members' bookshelves. By the way, the user group with the most members (316) is "Librarians who LibraryThing." The Groups feature was just added last week. There are even some mashups now that can link LibraryThing pages with booksellers and library collections.
LibraryThing is quickly garnering accolades from book lovers. Jill O'Neill wrote in a recent NFAIS Enotes: "Library Thing is an addictive tool, one that captured my imagination along with a portion of my book collection and a $10 participation fee."
Of course, now I'm worried. If I ever do try this application, I'll never get to all the other things on my to-do list. But, I'm so tempted.
Finally, The Institute for the Future of the Book explores the book's shift from the printed page to a networked environment. The Institute is a project of the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California and is based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Its goal is to explore, understand, and influence this shift. Here's what's involved: "Unlike the printed book, the networked book is not bound by time or space. It is an evolving entity within an ecology of readers, authors and texts. Unlike the printed book, the networked book is never finished: it is always a work in progress."
If you're intrigued, check out several of the projects listed on the Institute's site (http://www.futureofthebook.org). One of the experiments currently grabbing media interest is an experimental book by McKenzie Wark, a professor of cultural and media studies at The New School and the author of A Hacker Manifesto. Wark has shared a draft of his next book, GAM3R 7H30RY (Gamer Theory), a critical examination of video games, in an open Web-based environment designed to gather feedback and spark discussion.
The Institute soon plans to release Sophie, a new software application designed for reading and writing next-generation electronic books. According to information on the Institute's blog, "It will facilitate the construction of documents that use multimedia and time in ways that are currently difficult, if not impossible, with today's software."Watch for our coverage of Sophie and for an article on networked books by Paula Berinstein in an upcoming issue of Searcher.