Reading a book is one of my favourite activities, yet starting to read a book has more friction than necessary. I find myself jumping between multiple tools to explore a potential read, get access to it, and eventually commit to reading it. This is particular cumbersome on a phone, which has become my primary reading device and hence the source of most new reading prospects. In e-commerce, long or complicated check-out has been show to account for 28% of cart abandonment. I wonder how many people didn’t read a book because of the hassle. This is a brainstorm post of how to make this better.

A bit more on the frictions I observe. For me, there are four phases to reading a book: discovery, evaluation, reading, sharing. Discovery happens in a variety of context (conversation with a friend, conference talk, podcast, blog / article), mostly not when I’m sitting in front of a desktop computer. So I track to-read books in a pinned note in Google Keep, because it has a simple mobile client and syncs across devices. The main friction here is having to type the book name on a mobile keyboard.

To figure out if a book is actually worth reading, I hop over to Goodreads, Amazon and Google Search for reviews. Because I live in Canada, Google usually only shows me amazon.ca results. So I often have to manually visit amazon.com to get the full set of reviews. This means typing the book name a few more times in a variety of search boxes, often using a mobile keyboard. Fortunately Google is relatively forgiving of typos; otherwise it will be more frustrating than usual. Moreover, I often look into other contextual information to evaluate a book such as biography of the author, other publications of the same author, longer form reviews or summaries of the book, such as blogs, and other books in the same category. Amazon reviews cover some of these information, but not organized in an easy-to-explore way. Amazon is optimized for making a purchase when you know exactly the book you want to get.

I buy almost all my books on Kindle. This used to be relatively easy when I was an Android user. Since switching to an iPhone, I can no longer buy books directly in the Kindle app. This necessitates an additional sign-in at Amazon. Sometimes I also buy directly on my Kindle device, but this also incurs a device-switch cost from the previous evaluation step. Once in a blue moon, the Kindle price is inexplicably but significantly more expensive than alternative sources. I’ve bought books in Google Play Books and considered iBooks. This is not ideal though, because I can’t read them on Kindle (which is a very nice reading device), and can’t share them with my husband in our family plan. Toronto Public Library is in theory another source of ebooks. In practice, the wait time is often longer than a month, and it requires downloading yet another app (OverDrive’s Libby) to access the books. These frictions mean I have yet to check out an ebook from the library. The fragmentation of ebook sources is adding friction to reading.

Sometimes after reading a great book, I want to share it with friends. In the olden days, I could have just given them my paper copy. With ebook this is essentially impossible. I briefly entertained the idea of buying a Kindle just to lend it out to friends, but decided against because there is no way to restrict access only to a subset of books, or prevent purchases. Kindle is really only designed for the account owner.

How would I make this better?

I’d like to have a central place to track my book wish list. It should have these properties:

  • Mobile friendly since most of my book discovery happens away from a desktop computer.
  • For each book in my wish list, surface all contextual information in one place, i.e. reviews, summaries, author biography.
  • Ability to make notes about a book and organize books into collections.
  • One-click links to my library to borrow or third-party sites to buy the book.

I’d also like to be able to share a book. IP rights is complicated and I do support authors getting compensated properly. Maybe we can start with just sharing a book preview. Perhaps the new Web Packaging┬ástandard be used to support DRM-friendly sharing of full content. Perhaps better DRM schemes will enable interoperable ebook formats so I can have a single collection regardless whether it’s from Amazon, Play Books for iBooks.