In a move that will delight consumers, irritate some e-book retailers, and focus attention on its platform, BookShout, a social reading and book retail application, is introducing new technology that will allow its users to legally import their previous and future e-book purchases into their BookShout account, free of charge, no matter where they were purchased. Announced at TOC Frankfurt, beginning today users can import e-books purchased at Amazon and Barnes & Noble into their BookShout accounts and have all their e-book titles available in one location.

The new function addresses one of the biggest drawbacks of digital reading at the moment, consumer e-book purchases are walled off with DRM and must be read in different e-reading applications depending on the retailer they were purchased from. The new BookShout function will allow consumers to organize their e-books as they choose in the BookShout application. But BookShout is also an independent e-book retailer and its business model and e-books-all-in-one-place technology will likely attract the attention of major book publishers as well as book consumers. Currently, about 250 publishers offer titles for sale on BookShout, including four of the Big Six American houses (Penguin and S&S are not involved), totaling about 100,000 books. Only books available for sale via BookShout will be aggregated. “Our agreements allow consumers to aggregate their books onto our platform. The publishers just want to make sure that the books have been purchased,” explained BookShout founder Jason Illian.

Its move to make consumer titles available in one spot has attracted the support of publishers like O’Reilly Media. O’Reilly Media publisher and Tools of Change president Joe Wikert said, “We are 100% supportive of BookShout!’s push to free readers and empower publishers. We will continue to work with BookShout! to allow readers to experience and define e-books in new ways.”

Illian said BookShout is “knocking down the walls that e-book retailers have established and put users in control of their digital bookshelves.” Illian emphasized that “there is nothing illegal about this, it’s not Napster. Consumers can aggregate the e-books they own.” He continued: “Retailers are putting these blocks up, making their e-books platform specific. We’re just enforcing the [consumers'] contract. This is Joe Reader’s content, can’t he read it anywhere he wants?”

Originally launched as a social reading platform in the Christian book market, BookShout was founded by Illian and the service is now being promoted to the larger book market. The application allows its users to communicate with each other, compare reading lists and notes, form book clubs and purchase e-books that can be read in the BookShout environment. And while BookShout allows its users to form book clubs and read books collectively online, users cannot read the book in BookShout unless they have purchased a copy.

While Illian emphasized that the service is completely legal, he also acknowledged the possibility of lawsuits. "It's all legal but that doesn't mean we won't get sued," he said. When consumers buy e-books they are actually licensing the content—not buying the e-books outright like a physical book—and that license comes with restrictions. But Illian repeatedly emphasized that the ability to aggregate the e-book content is legal as well as empowering to book consumers. “It’s all above board,” he said noting that BookShout has the technical capacity to import e-book content from any platform. BookShout is starting with Amazon and B&N, he said, and will likely add Kobo next.

“There are no legal issues,” he said, while also acknowledging that e-tailers have not been notified about the technology, or BookShout’s plans to use it. He also emphasized that retailers can’t block the service either. “Amazon may not like it,” Illian said, adding that “we’re prepared to talk about all of this with retailers but we’re consumer focused.” And pointing to BookShout’s book retailing service, he said they also want to use it “to give publishers better data, which books are selling, what consumers are sharing, and offer a higher level of discoverability. Stuff to help them sell more books.”