Reading Ebooks on Your Smartphone

"Samsung Galaxy S5" by GalaxyOptimus - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
“Samsung Galaxy S5” by GalaxyOptimus – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Smartphones have exploded in popularity in the last few years, and because so many people own smartphones, publishers are now thinking about how to best deliver digital content to the small screen.

As a side anecdote, four years ago (2011) I was sitting in a marketing class at NYU, and the lecturer was telling us about how she read all five A Song of Ice and Fire books (you know, Game of Thrones), on her phone, usually while commuting on the subway. At the time, most of us in the class thought it was crazy extraordinary — we were still getting used to the idea of ebooks, and reading books on an iPad. But flash forward and I find myself getting most of my reading done on my phone when I’m commuting on BART in San Francisco. The times they are a changin’.

According to BookWorks, “there are over one billion smartphones in the hands of potential readers, and that number is thought to triple by 2017.” And, “With the growing popularity of eBooks, on-the-go bibliophiles have chosen to transition to their smartphones for their daily dose of literature.” Wall Street Journal also confirms the rise of phone reading.

There are even startups devoted to bite-sized literature, meant to be read on your phone. Take Rooster, a subscription service that, according to DBW, curates reads and gives you recommendations in small chunks that you can digest throughout the day, in moments of spare time.

One interesting piece of information, however, is that people don’t necessarily want bite-sized literature on their phone (again, I know at least one person who read all the Game of Thrones on her phone, and we all know how long that is). The Atlantic reported on a Buzzfeed article that was more than 6,000 words long, 47% of readers accessed on a mobile device, and spent more than 25 minutes reading it.

According to The Atlantic article, phones are structured well for reading:

So what’s the appeal? Part of it, Peretti thinks, is the constant companionship phones provide. “You’re in bed, and your laptop is in the other room, or your iPad, and the phone is right there,” he told me. Part of it, too, is the way phones in particular are structured: That single, tab-less screen—the screen that scrolls with the flick of a finger—fits the way we most like to read.

But even more importantly, what matters the most when it comes to grabbing a reader’s attention is the quality of what they’re reading (which isn’t too surprising, and comes up a lot in the indie writing world.)

In the future, maybe phones could recommend to you personalized content based on what you do. In an article earlier this year, Joe Wikert laid out the possibilities of an app on your phone on BookBusiness:

The app’s goal is to provide every user with a digital scrapbook of their life. The key is to automate as much of this process as possible. Let your phone and the app figure out what to collect and you can always go in and tweak it later if you want.

There’s also an enormous content opportunity here. I mentioned how the app pulls in content from newspapers but, of course, the feeds could come from anywhere. Ultimately this is a way to redeploy content based on context and preserve it for years and years. After all, one of the reasons you want to gather this information is to remember and relive the events of last week or last year. It’s also an interesting way to build the story of your life, one that can be passed on from one generation to the next. I’d love to have this kind of information about my parents and grandparents, for example.

Eventually though, with how ebooks are evolving, there’s been some talk about getting hacked with EPUB3. The Digital Reader warns:

One of the security holes that malware developers try to exploit is JavaScript, which happens to be supported in Epub3. Right now it is unlikely that you will encounter an Epub3 ebook that you need to worry about, but that could change in the future.

Lots of opportunities and things to think about. How do you like to read your books? Please share in the comments!


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