With little fanfare, Amazon has unveiled a new feature that has major implications for the digital distribution of books. For starters, Amazon has revamped its “Search Inside the Book” interface and renamed it the Amazon Online Reader. Looking at To the Lighthouse, the familiar links allowing you to jump to the table of contents, an excerpt, and other sections of the book are visible on the left side of the new interface, but below those is a tab called “Highlights/Bookmarks.” Along the top are buttons that allow you to jump to specific pages, highlight, bookmark, copy, and print. All of these features are inaccessible unless you use a new feature that was introduced jointly with the new online reader called Amazon Upgrade. For an extra five dollars when you buy the hard copy of a book, Amazon Upgrade gives you online access to the book and lets you “mark it up” with highlighting, bookmarks, and notes, a process which is explained here. Perhaps most fascinating is that Amazon allows you to make your notations public so that they can be viewed by other readers. To me this sounds like aggregating all the many jottings that populate the used books sitting on dusty shelves everywhere.
The other aspect of this that interests me is the reader itself. The old interface for viewing a book was clunky and the text was hard to read comfortably, but with the new reader the display is much larger and easier to read, and the pages load almost instantaneously compared to the old version. While not ideal, it’s now possible to imagine actually reading a book in this way. Others have taken notice of this as well, and it is causing some to speculate that Amazon is looking to sell access to books online whether or not one buys the hard copy.