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There was once a time when I would’ve said that enhanced ebooks are direct evidence of a shrinking global attention span. People can’t just sit and read a book anymore; they have to read with videos, games, trivia, and so on. But one new digital reading startup, Subtext, may have just hit the nail on the head with its new social reading platform for the iPad, which launched Tuesday with $3 million in seed funding from Google Ventures, Mayfield Fund, NEA, and Omidyar Network.
So here’s where Subtext goes beyond the “enhanced ebook” to actually offer an enhanced reading experience: the platform doesn’t try to distract the reader. Instead, it offers all of the extras that die-hard readers ordinarily seek out on their own, such as author commentary, videos, and—most importantly—a discussion. Subtext was built upon the idea of adding a social layer to the reading experience, and to that end, it’s the only platform that supports asynchronous reading and discussion.
For example, let’s say you’re reading a book and a passage on page 23 catches your eye, so you make a note that other readers can see. Later, someone else comes along and reads the book, sees your comment on page 23, and responds. You may have already moved on from that point in the book (in fact, you may already be in another book), but you’ll receive the alert and have the option of responding.
In essence, it’s an open book club within the book itself. And to make the platform as accessible as possible, it’s open to several different platforms. Currently, the platform is fully integrated with the Google Books library, which means users can buy a book on Google Books and begin reading it via Subtext. The platform also supports Kobo. Unfortunately, Amazon and Apple are not included in the mix, as they have closed systems.
Authors and experts can also enhance the books with their own notes, commentary, and content, such as videos and links to outside sources. Subtext currently has 18 titles with author extras, including A Game of Thrones, In the Plex, The Lotus Eaters, Under the Tuscan Sun, Wicked Bugs, and more.
“Here, at last, is a platform that allows authors to add video, audio, photos, links and notes to enhance their books—and it is as easy as changing their Facebook status. Best of all, Subtext frees authors up to approach their subject in a different way, to speak in a more intimate voice and to lift the curtain on their process,” said Amy Stewart, bestselling author of Wicked Bugs.
The company has some interesting gaming DNA, as the three co-founders all come from gaming backgrounds. CEO Andrew Goldman and CTO Adam Iarossi both come from Pandemic, which sold to EA for $860 million in 2007. Co-founder and VP of marketing Rachel Thomas hails from Playdom, which sold to Disney last year for $763.2 million.
Subtext got its start because Andrew Goldman wanted to apply the principles of social media and gaming to reading. While the company has no immediate plans to expand to the textbook space, Rachel Thomas admits that the platform is rife with educational possibilities.
The company plans to use the new funds from this round to add a few key staff members to its team as well as focus on customer acquisition.
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