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Three questions for…Jason Illian of BookShout

The universal ebook shelf comes to life thanks to BookShout's import feature

1. What is BookShout and what makes it unique?

BookShout is a unique type of ereader that allows for sharing and discoverability. In other words, the “social” tools are built into the ereader so that users can either actively or passively share the books with which they are most passionate, increasing unit sales and notoriety. Not only can readers share notes and thoughts to other BookShout users, but they can also share them out to Facebook and Twitter.

BookShout is available on iOS, Android, and the web.  We work directly with publishers to make sure all of their books are available and for sale through BooksShout. We are signing new publishers up all the time and most see us a creative new sales channel that gives them options and data not available with other retailers.

2. You announced your new Kindle and Nook book importer feature at TOC Frankfurt earlier this week (see short video below and press release here). How does a consumer use it and what benefit does it offer?

Its really quite simple, which is one reason we think it is so powerful. When a user downloads the iOS or Android mobile app, they are asked if they want to import their current Kindle or Nook books. If they do, they simply enter their username and password, and within a few seconds, their previous purchases are imported to BookShout. We only import books from publishers in which we have a relationship, so if a book isn’t available for import at the current time, we notify the user when it is.

The benefit from a readers perspective is a universal bookshelf, in which all their books are easy to find, share, and read. Users don’t have to worry about where they bought the books–they can read them all in one place, which just makes sense. Users also get the added benefits of sharing notes, interacting with authors, seeing one another’s bookshelves, etc.

3. You spoke with quite a few members of the publishing industry before launching the importer feature. What has their feedback been?

So far the feedback has been great. Our goal is to work closely with the publishers so that we can provide meaningful data and analytics going forward on book sales, trends and sharing. If users can aggregate all their books on BookShout, the opportunity to arm publishers with new, measurable data is greatly increased. In a sense, it allows publishers and authors to have a direct relationship to the end user, which allows for more powerful and viral campaigns around books.

Jason Illian is the founder and CEO of BookShout.

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  • William Ockham

    I have some questions for Jason Illian. Do you really think that it is ok to ask users for account passwords that contain credit card information? What protects a customer if you sell your company to someone unscrupulous? Do you have any external audit that guarantees that your customers’ Amazon and B&N account information is handled properly?

    • jwikert

      Great questions for every site out there that asks for log-in credentials from other sites that store your credit card info. I’ve asked Jason to weigh in on this on the earlier post where you mentioned this. I’m thinking he might be in transit back to the states from Frankfurt so let’s give him a bit of time to respond. In the mean time, how do you feel about services like Mint? I’ve given them log-in’s for my bank, 401K, mortgage, car loan and more. Yes, they’re part of Intuit but what assurances do we have that they won’t get sold off to “someone unscrupulous” as well?

      It’s clear I’m more willing to try this sort of thing out than you are. You might think I’m reckless with my credit card info but, knock on wood, I haven’t had any issues with that up to now. I imported my Kindle books two nights ago and haven’t seen any illicit activity on my credit card tied to the account, so that’s a nice start. :-) Meanwhile, it feels great to have a social reading platform within which to also enjoy my many Kindle ebook purchases.

      • William Ockham

        Mint.com has third-party verification of practices from TRUSTe, VeriSign and Hackersafe. That is the difference. They have a reason to need access to your financial account information. They clearly spell out why they need your information and what they use it for.

        What does BookShout! say? Did you even read the Terms of Service (ToS)?  The BookShout! ToS are murky, to say the least. My interpretation is that they claim the right to store, access and disply your credit card information. Perhaps I’m wrong, but do you feel comfortable endorsing a company that gains access to your credit card info, even though it is totally unnecessary for the functionality they provide. They don’t need to access your account. They are doing it to satisfy the publishers. They are doing it to embrace and extend the lifetime of DRM. There are ways to provide the same functionality without requiring people to engage in unsafe online behavior. It’s technically more complicated, but it can be done. They are just too lazy.

        You are being horribly irresponsible in endorsing this. Think about it. You have no idea what they do with your information. The fact that they haven’t ripped you off yet is irrelevant. I’m not worried about BookShout! ripping people off as much as I am the casual endorsement by folks like you of handing your Amazon username and password to any old Android or iOS mobile app. Do you know anything about computer security? 

        The problem is that they are getting access to your credit card info for something that has nothing to do with your credit card. Can’t you see how dangerous this is for users? You need to go read some O’Reilly books on computer security.

        • http://twitter.com/mikecane Mike Cane

          I read the Bookshout TOS.  It’s the first TOS I’ve ever encountered that claims to bind you to the terms of the TOS just for *reading* the TOS!  Someone has clearly gone overboard there and I really resented them thinking they could trap people like that.

  • Jason Illian

    William,

    Thanks for your thoughts.  Sorry for the slow response but i just landed back in the States.  No Wifi when flying over “the Pond.”  To answer your question:

    At BookShout, we do not store your Amazon or B&N password when you import your books.  In fact, if you import your books, buy another book from Amazon and then want to import the new one,  you have to enter it all over again. An Amazon account can only be imported into one BookShout account. In other words a user cannot import the same Amazon account into multiple accounts. The only data that we capture during the import process is your current Amazon or B&N book list.As Amazon will tell you, they have one of the most sophisticated encryption and credit card protection technologies in the world, which is why they are such a massively successful retailer.  If it was as easy to steal someone’s credit card as just getting their username and password, then they couldn’t stay in business. At best, if someone has your info they could see the last 4 digits on your cards and/or order some stuff to be shipped to your house. Amazon would be the first to tell you that your personal financial data is safe with them, and I concur. Remember, we have been vetted by a number of the Big 6 publishers and they are trusting us with their content. And the process of creating legitimate DRM, protected servers for ePubs, appropriate reporting for the world’s largest publishers, and PCI compliant systems is no easy task–which we have accomplished. And if we get acquired, the company still does not have your Amazon login or password–we don’t store it. Believe me, we know it is our burden to earn your trust.  That is what we are trying to do.Hope this helps.  Appreciate your thoughtful comments.

    • jwikert

      Thanks for responding to this, Jason. When the issue was initially raised I went back into my Amazon account and confirmed that I could only retrieve the last 4 digits of my credit card. So not only is it impossible for someone else to get your credit card number thru the Amazon log-in process it’s also impossible for you the owner of the account to retrieve it. Sounds very secure to me. Ironically, we have Amazon to thank for this security, btw. :-)

    • William Ockham

      Nice soothing fairy tale, but it is a fairy tale. The danger is not that you can get the credit card number, the danger is that you have unfettered access to a user’s Amazon account. There’s nothing stopping an unscrupulous application from using the Amazon account to make sham purchases from a “no returns” storefront in the Amazon marketplace. There is nothing stopping the app from purchasing Amazon gift cards for amounts to up to the user’s credit limit. There are dozens of ways that another app that mimics yours could use a similar scheme to defraud the user. Training users that it is ok to enter username/passwords to external sites (not associated with the app) is wrong. Doing that with retailer accounts with “one-click” purchasing authority reeks of scam malware.

      The big problem here is not Amazon’s security. It’s not whether or not your app will do something malicious. The problem is that you are teaching users that this behavior is safe. It’s not. You have sold out your users so that you can suck up to Big Publishing. It’s despicable. You are engaged in the moral equivalent of teaching children that it is OK to get into cars with strangers. You are helping make the web and ecommerce more difficult to secure for everyone else in the business.

      You implemented this without any of the following:

      1. Third party audit of your ecommerce practices.
      2. Due diligence to examine alternative ways to achieve the same end without endangering your users.
      3. Rewriting your Terms of Service to provide users with assurances of how their accounts will be used.
      4. Entering into legitimate agreements with the retailer whose sites you are hacking (and their is no other way to describe what you are doing).

      • jwikert

        Thanks for taking the time to provide these insightful comments, William. You’ve given us all quite a bit to think about.

  • http://www.earshut.com/ Harry Nama

    Hi, i am a writer and just about to publish my book on Amazon. Do you do book reviews on your blog? Any advice would be appreciated.