Looks like Harpercollins UK are set to announce a book social networking site similar to Goodreads.com and librarything.com. Named BookArmy, users will be able to build a library of books using ISBNs, tag them and interact socially (online) with other book lovers. Importantly, the site is not restricting the participation to books published by Harpercollins.
In a post I wrote about branding several weeks ago, I wondered who the first major publisher would be to incorporate a books in print database on to their site and it looks like HC UK will be the one. (In comments to that post some did point out Bloomsbury tried this approach years ago).
No doubt there will be some questioning why we need another book oriented social network when we have shelfari, goodreads and librarything. Certainly a valid question, but I doubt the goodreads people wondered if they could complete with librarything when they got started and here they are only a few years later with bigger traffic. There is no reason to believe that HC will not appeal to a new segment - or steal some of the users from the incumbents. I hope they will be able to instill in the BookArmy brand something that is unique and unifying because if the site comes across as HC corporate in disguise it is unlikely to be successful. I think the HC people are smart enough to realize that.
Harpercollins is very actively trying new things online. There US site is vibrant and full of experimentation. Some have argued that they don't go far enough in allowing access to their content but the point is they are not adverse to experimentation. The UK and the US online exercises do seem to be different in approach. It is not that they are uncoordinated but their respective approaches seem different. In the UK BookArmy and Authonomy.com are examples where they have have taken the potential of the web to build community just a bit farther than the US office is doing.
What could be most interesting about this is how successful HC will be in promoting the site across the other NewsCorp sites particularly Myspace. If they are able to gain traction there then we could really begin to see a significant player in book social networking. Perhaps even a transaction site that could become very significant given the concentration of users around the Myspace brand. On the other hand, your typical Myspace user may not be the perfect book reader and therein lies the challenge. Taking the battle directly to the group less interested in reading could be just the thing that builds some renewed interest in published content.*
I hope to have more on this when the site launches next week.
* I am not saying the typical Myspace user doesn't read: We need them to read books in quantity!