From yesterday's Guardian:
If you disagree with a point in Po Bronson's new book about parenting, NurtureShock, then don't bother returning it or giving it a one-star review on Amazon: you can tell Bronson directly, thanks to an online experiment that will allow readers to add their own footnotes to the pages of a digital version of the book.
As of next week, readers of Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, will be able to go online and make notes on three chapters of the book. Covering the topics of why 98% of children lie, why too much praise for children is a bad idea, and how important an extra hour of sleep is, the three chapters will be posted on PoBronson.com, Nurtureshock.com and Twelvebooks.com, where readers will be able to highlight sections of the text, and add their own footnotes to their selections.
"I'm interested in building community around books, facilitating discussion. This is an experiment to see what happens," said novelist and journalist Bronson, whose book, NurtureShock, was published in the US last week by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group USA, with UK publication lined up for next year. "Our book already has 70 pages of sources, and 7,000 words of footnotes, that we've put in there."
Caroline Vanderlip, chief executive of SharedBook, the American company enabling the exercise, agreed with Bronson. "We believe that the community can enrich the original, similar to how footnotes or marginalia have enriched books for years," she said. "The difference here is that it's collaborative annotation, rather than from one source."
Interested collaborators will then be able to buy a PDF of the three chapters complete with their new footnotes. "We think the level of comments could be as engaging as the original," said Vanderlip. "Because our system supports annotation in a very detailed, contextual way, we have found that users do not abuse the system. But we have the means to delete anything that might be offensive." Bronson said he saw the project as having a "'wisdom of crowds'/Wikipedia-like community moderation".
Philip Jones, managing editor of theBookseller.com, said that publishers were all looking at ways of making books "more communal". "It's the whole idea of having a conversation around a book, no longer reading in isolation and building a community of readers," he said. "[The Bronson experiment is] another innovation from publishers who are seeking ways to reach out to readers in the digital age. It works for Amazon who have created a whole new platform for getting feedback on books in their comments. There is nowhere else you can get that feedback, and I know authors use it."
At Penguin, digital publisher Jeremy Ettinghausen said that readers were increasingly "wanting to discuss and comment and tag things, and as an initiative which allows people to indulge that, this is welcome". "I'm looking forward to a version when people can read the same book at the same time and all comment together," he said. "We are always thinking about how we can develop communities around particular books or categories, and there will be a time when we'll be able to integrate those communities and conversations with content."
"Enhanced ebooks will almost certainly be the way forward, and as the quality of ereaders improves, there will be a multitude of ways in which we can do this," added Hodder & Stoughton's Isobel Akenhead, pointing to "director's cut" editions of books – with commentary from the author about why and how the text might have changed, as well as user commentaries, which she said would work particularly well for reference books such as recipe books.