eBook-related news has been hot lately. First, there was the Amazon Kindle II's debut, then Amazon's Kindle for iPhone app, followed by Barnes & Noble's purchase of Fictionwise (which, if you have eReader or Stanza, is likely where you get most of your paid titles). Now here's another tidbit, this time about Wattpad, the content-sharing David among the corporate book-retailing Goliaths. It just unveiled a new iPhone app that gives access to free eBooks uploaded by Wattpad users.
Here's the scoop: Wattpad bills itself as more of a ?YouTube-like community? that allows users to share digital books, like their own penned works, in multiple languages. But you know what happens when content is user-determined? You guessed it ? titles, like some of the Harry Potter books, start showing up. (No wonder the media's already tagged it as pirate-lit.)
Apparently, there's less of that now, since Wattpad thinned out the inventory (though it didn't completely remove them. As of this writing, The Sorcerer's Stone was still in there). It also added Project Gutenberg, which provides great works of literature in the free public domain. (These classic offerings are way, way better than reading some of the melodramatic fantasies and bad poetry that normally propagate in these kinds of projects.)
But the key word in all this is FREE. Users don't pay a thing to upload/share or download eBooks. And now, Wattpad ? which already works on over 1,000 Java-compatible phones, including Symbian, WinMo and BlackBerry devices ? has gotten the Apple seal of approval, allowing it to spread to even more users. Like its titles, the ad-supported app costs nothing. (The banner shows up on various screens except for inside an actual eBook. That's good, otherwise it would've been really distracting while reading.)
I took a few minutes to check out Wattpad, and was surprised that it's actually a nice, little app with more offerings than just the latest lame ramblings by pimply-faced, fanfic hacks. Project Gutenberg certainly helps, but even some of the community-penned books aren't bad. Sure, there's an overabundance of vampire fiction, there's also some well-written tomes by some talented, yet undiscovered writers.
A few more thoughts on the app itself:
What's cool: The content and the app are free, the UI is nice and well-thought-out (though not quite as customizable as Stanza), the load time is quick, the app remembers where you left off on a page, there's a social input where you can rate/recommend titles, and users can set auto-scrolling at different speeds, which is pretty cool.
What's not: There are no images of book covers, no ability to annotate, and no access to acquire (or even buy) other titles that haven't been uploaded to the community yet.
Wattpad may have grown a fanbase through the distribution of free copyrighted material, but the sort of person who listens to underground bands or digs undiscovered artists might also like exploring the amateur novels here. And the Wattpad app makes that an easy and enjoyable experience.