With the price of a basic black and white e-ink digital reading device fluctuating somewhere just under $150, the news that Copia plans a $99 color device is the latest volley in the e-reader price wars. But after seeing a beta version of Copia's social networking platform, an impressively comprehensive effort that allows members to use, share (and comment on) as well as buy content, the company's software—and its ability to connect like-minded consumers around topics of interest—may well be more important than the device's price points.

In fact, it's likely e-reader prices haven't hit rock bottom yet. Copia v-p Anthony Antolino emphasized that Copia (and its parent company DMC Worldwide) is focused on the market for affordable, mass market consumer devices, and while Copia's basic device is "$99 today, the marketplace is very competitive and we'll see where it is at the holiday season."

But Antolino was quick to turn the conversation back to the Copia social network, set to go live, he said, sometime in the next 30 days. Like most social networks, Copia's is based on the notion that the recommendations people receive from a personalized community—the people we know and whose opinions we value—drive purchasing; it's the equivalent of digital word-of-mouth. The new Copia network offers an online book and reading-focused social networking infrastructure that feels intuitive to use, and there's a range of graphically generated comparative tools—from color coded and starred "community ratings" to book reviews written by friends and group members—keyed to encourage interaction.

There's an unusual graphical search engine for books whose visual results are rendered by scale—it gives a mosaic of book jackets; the bigger the jacket image the more likely it matches your search. Copia members can set up a library of their books, and not just books bought but lists of stuff they'd like to read as well as the ability to create or join discussion groups focused on any topic. While the network allows users to collect followers and friends like Twitter and Facebook, users can easily reach across these groups to connect with those outside of them—depending on the privacy settings around their content information and profiles—in an effort to discover still more like-minded individuals on the network. (Antolino joked that the network could probably be used as a matchmaking site.) Copia is also talking to book publishers—Antolino said there are a few on the beta site—and offering a Publishers Tool Kit that can provide microsites, author pages, and dedicated administration controls that let publishers offer promotional events on the Copia network.

But the network's flexibility and potential range of topics and content are just as compelling. Copia will be a retailer as well as a social network and will offer about 400,000 e-book titles for sale at launch. While books are driving the launch of the site, Copia plans to introduce movies—along with the ability to watch streamed movie content within the Copia environment—and music later in the year. Copia will launch with an iPad app and client software for PCs, and said its software will also be bundled on a number of devices.

Ultimately Copia is offering a kind of one-stop shopping for social networks. It is set up to allow its users to link to their Facebook account and contacts. But what would it be like if a social network were to combine the ability to find and buy content like Amazon.com; to share and comment on it like Facebook; and even to view it directly like Scribd or even YouTube? Once launched, Copia will offer the ability not only to buy physical books but to download and read digital ones. And pointing to B&N's Nook Study and Follett's CafeScribe deals with the online teaching platform Blackboard Learn, Antolino said Copia's network will also offers students and professors the ability to provide annotations and notes that stay with a digital text and that can be broadcast over small or large study groups set up on the network.

Currently, there are about 400 people on the beta site, so it remains to be seen how the public will respond once Copia is released into the wild. Copia wants to offer customers a platform that will allow them to discuss—and hopefully buy—almost anything, be it a book, a movie, or a lesson plan. "The opinions of the people we respect influence our own decisions about what we read," Antolino said. "We're trying to bring it all together in one ecosystem where you can read, discuss, and buy content."