announced a new feature for its Kindle reading platform that lets readers ask authors questions about their books as they're reading.Amazon nudged the experience of reading books ever-so-slightly further into the future today. The company
The new program, called @author, lets Kindle users highlight a passage and then ask the author a question about it via their Amazon author page or Twitter. Only questions as long as 100 characters can be asked from within the e-book itself, but more in-depth curiosities can be posted to the author's official page on Amazon.
Of course, only a handful of questions will actually be answered directly by authors, but other readers are free to chime in and offer their take. If the writer does respond, readers will be notified by email.
If you've got something nasty to say, this probably isn't the place to do it, as Amazon encourages readers to "behave as if you were a guest at a friend's dinner party" and leave profanity and insults out of it.
The feature represents, as Nieman Journalism Lab so effectively put it, a step toward "a book culture that is increasingly author-driven" rather than one driven strictly by publishers or even necessarily books. Amazon is "is charting a new course for the publishing industry" by "commodifying the charisma of the authors who sell material on its platforms," Nieman Lab's Megan Garber writes.
Already we're seeing new, largely tablet-driven publishing platforms challenging and transforming our assumptions about what a book is and can be; already we're seeing publishing platforms that emphasize authors' fan communities as value propositions unto themselves. @Author is the next step in that process: the digital commodification of authorship that takes place by way of community and conversation.
Amazon took a step toward social reading earlier this year with the quiet launch of Kind Profiles, which let users display their reading activity and connect with other readers in a Goodreads-style feature.
The @author feature is in limited beta right now, and appears to only be available on Kindle devices rather than from within the Kindle app on other platforms. Participating authors include Tim Ferris, Susan Orlean, Steven Johnson and about a dozen others.