What If Everyone on Twitter Read the Same Book?

Social activity around books and reading used to be limited to Oprah-style book clubs or the occasional reading by an author, but social tools like Twitter and Facebook have amplified and extended the ability to discuss and recommend books in new directions. Now Jeff Howe, the author and journalism professor who coined the term “crowdsourcing,” wants to take that a step further and use Twitter to create the world’s largest virtual book-reading club. Howe is partnering with The Atlantic magazine on a project called 1book140 that starts on June 1 and will Twitter-fy one book a month as selected by users.

Howe’s venture is an extension of a project he pioneered last year called One Book, One Twitter, which saw more than 12,000 people participate in a Twitter-based discussion about Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods. Howe has said he was disappointed when the project ended, and the venture with The Atlantic is an attempt to turn that phenomenon into an ongoing effort instead of a one-off.

After sorting through suggestions from more than 1,400 users, the project settled on a new book from Canadian author Margaret Atwood called The Blind Assassin. And the choice of Atwood is an interesting one, because the author — who was convinced to try Twitter as a promotional effort several years ago — has taken to the real-time social information network like few other authors with such a long and successful career. And judging by a tweet from the author on Thursday in response to the launch of the 1book140 project, Atwood is hoping to take part in the discussion of her novel, which could be fascinating.

As the book industry continues to evolve, it seems almost inevitable that books and writing will become more social (whether authors like it or not). Amazon has taken some steps in this area by adding the ability to share the passages that you highlight while reading books on the Kindle. And there have been many other moves toward “socializing” the reader experience — including some involving things that are not specifically books, such as the addition of social-sharing features to #longreads, which started as a Twitter hashtag and has become a full-fledged service.

As we’ve written before, the whole idea of the “book” is being disrupted by ventures such as Longreads and Byliner. And with more authors taking their cue from self-publishing sensation Amanda Hocking — who was able to pull in more than $2 million by publishing her own books before signing with a major publisher — being able to connect with readers is likely to become even more necessary. While some authors may want to remain aloof, J.D. Salinger-style, and let their works be consumed and discussed without them, that is likely to be less and less appealing to publishers or readers.

Not long ago, authors were being pushed to try Twitter and other social tools solely for promotional and marketing-related purposes, but in the future they may choose to actually reach out to their readers and engage with them as they read and digest a book. Could we be looking at the future of authorship?

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr users Jeremy Mates and Marya

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