I have long loathed the elitism of literature purists who perpetuate the eternal “the book is better than the movie or game” debate (perhaps as a result of a rough academic upbringing). I don’t identify as a “reader” though I read more than most on a daily basis, and I think the medium suitable only for certain purposes in spite of calling myself “a writer”. Thus, it’s with a snide grin that I’ve been watching Kobo, Canada’s blossoming eReader and eBook retailer, attempt to gamify the consumption of literature.
As highlighted by Theresa Neil over at Designing Web Interfaces, Kobo’s new iPad app seeks to change the recipe for eBook consumption by adding a dollop of gamification. Touching on many key elements of gamification, the app features all of the following and more:
- A host of reading-specific badges and some smart usage of the endowed progress effect
- A public profile that creates a sense of status by measuring your consumption rates and choices, as well as many other cool usage stats such as total pages turned
- A Facebook-integrated friends list that allows you to share your book collection publicly, encouraging organic discovery of new books and reinforcing the behavior spurred on by the public profile
- Hidden book-specific treasures that can be found through natural exploration of content (which nicely targets the “Explorers“)
To top it all off, Kobo’s app is stylishly designed with some eye-catching and fitting use of typography. The company’s product designers, as usual, paid great mind to the user experience, making it easier to use for its intended audience and more attractive to power-users like me who are drawn like flies to the light of the “Apple” effect. Even to a jaded literato like me, the app is quite appealing for what it is.
But my interest in the app isn’t what Kobo intended. What I’m curious about is the app’s reach and lifespan by in its target audience. Anecdotally, showing the app to those close to me who are big book readers resulted in the same general consensus: “I enjoy reading because I like reading, not because I earn something of no value for my efforts or because I can brag that I read a book. I read for me.”
Nevertheless, there certainly exists a subset of book readers who will eat this application up. The bevy of “What I’m Reading” applications on Facebook will attest to that. One has to wonder, though, how much more effective this gamification would be if it obeyed the one principle that seems forever neglected: for non-gamers, gamification only works if there are real rewards.
Again, anecdotally, I asked my girlfriend, who scoffed at first when I showed her the app, if earning a free book (or perhaps a free Starbucks coffee) after getting a few badges would incent her to use the application more. This is a worthwhile goal for Kobo, as it would subsequently foster a sense of loyalty to the company’s brand in her and invest her in the platform she now owns books on.
Her response? “Now that would be cool.”