Glom Talks: Litsy Co-Founder Todd Lawton On How Social Media Has Changed The Way We Read

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When I was in high school, my friends and I would buy a romance paperback to share from the local Borders (just to set up the timeline for you). Think A Pirate’s Pleasure, Lord of Scoundrels, you know, the classy stuff. We’d take turns reading it, Sisterhood of the Traveling Smut, scribbling in the margins and drawing proto-eye-emojis next to mentions of “her fiery triangle” and his “tumescent rod.” All this to say, I get the pure joy of sharing a good read with a group of good friends. Litsy reminds me of those days—though much more developed, nuanced, and exciting.

(Related: Catie Disabato on Writing and The Fast and The Furious)

Todd Lawton and Jeffrey LeBlanc, the masterminds behind the incredible Out of Print, developed Litsy last year. We got to ask them the tough questions about where publishing is headed as social media continues to pervade, why we’re so obsessed with #litfluence, and what the hell about that whole Elena Ferrante doxxing scandal?

Lauren Friedlander: Many have always considered reading a solitary experience, but this app feeds into young readers’ urges to document their progress and share with friends. Do you think this urge is a recent development of social media, or has there always been this innate desire to share?

Todd Lawton: We like to say that the second best thing about reading a book is talking about it. I think this has held true for as long as we’ve had books to read. The ease and reach of social media takes the conversation to a different level. What I love about Litsy is that it doesn’t matter at what point of the book you find yourself, where you are, or who you are around, when you have something to say about a book you can say it on Litsy.  It’s an always-present reading companion.

LF: Litsy has been described as Instagram-meets-Goodreads. How does the app expand beyond this definition and create a new form of engagement?

TL: We focus on spontaneous, joyful book moments shared globally; not just reviews or ratings. Two-thirds of our posts are non-review conversations that weren’t happening or were lost on other networks. Sharing an inspiring quote or a thought evoked mid-book are equally important and interesting as a final wrap-up. Additionally, all posts are actionable. So if you see a book mentioned in your feed, you can tap on the title, read the summary and scroll through all the posts associated with that book. From here you can decide to add it to a reading stack. You never will lose track of a book you see and like on Litsy. In less than 6 months, we have seen over 1 million books stacked.

LF: How have you experienced the way that social media has changed the way we market, buy, and consume books in general?

TL: Word-of-mouth from a trusted source has always been the strongest form of advertising. Social media adds a megaphone to that voice. We want to know what our friends and interesting people are doing and experiencing. This is especially true for books. Reading is a deeply personal thing that we want to share—and crave to know what our favorite people are sticking their noses in.

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LF: Are there certain genres that “work better” or seem to have significantly more reach than others on Litsy? Why do you think that is?

TL: We see a fair amount of conversations happening around contemporary, general fiction. With that said, I’m always surprised (and delighted) to see classics like The Handmaid’s Tale show up on our most active books list. The community has grown and the introduction of hashtagging has opened the opportunity to talk about all kinds of books. Also awesome to witness is the diversity of topics and geographical interest.

LF: Members love Litsy’s Litfluence feature, part of which shows how many books or pages you’ve read. Why do you think gamification and quantitative data appeals so much to readers?

TL: Books matter A LOT to a lot of people. It’s fun to measure what you’ve read in pages or see how the community has responded to your posts. To influence someone to add a book to a stack is a big deal. It just feels good to have the support and feedback from the community. Litfluence is simply a way to track that.

LF: How can Litsy help publishers change the way they approach readers?

TL: Litsy levels the playing field so that an author doesn’t have to be a Big Name in order for Litsy users to discover his or her book. On other social media, you have to see a book over and over again before you connect with it because of all of the other noise. But on Litsy, you can see a title once that piques your interest, and immediately add it to your “To Read Stack.”  This helps publishers tremendously by making sure great books get in front of the readers who will love them, regardless of the author’s name recognition.

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LF: The reading experience as a whole has changed so much in just the past few years. How do you see the book-reading community evolving in the coming years?

TL: Great question. It’s an exciting time to be working in the book industry. I think all the ways we can physically read or listen to a book have now been explored. We focus on bringing fun and innovation to the way people experience, celebrate, and share their reads. That’s where we see the most excitement and opportunity.

LF: Recently, the New York Review of Books revealed the name of the person who has been writing as Elena Ferrante, though many in the literary community considered this “doxxing” and an act of intrusion. As creators of an app that seeks to foster a close community, do you believe that necessitates the breaking of barriers between reader and writer? When fans can follow Rainbow Rowell on Twitter and Joe Hill on Litsy, what role does the private or inaccessible author play? Are they becoming a thing of the past?

TL: The “private” or “inaccessible” author will never become a thing of the past. The act of writing a book, with few exceptions, is an act of solitude and privacy. We’re not interested in breaking down those barriers. What we are interested in is fostering a deeper appreciation for authors and books by allowing users to take a step back and understand the work from multiple angles. By allowing readers to look at the inspiration behind a book, the art, other authors, quotes, public readings, etc, we hope for a more textured experience between author and reader.

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