I don’t know about you, but when I hear “e-book” I automatically think of something that can be read on a Kindle or Nook (or on one of their associated iPad apps). Basically, text that was written for a print medium and slapped into a digital format. Yeh, they’re convenient (I can download one in minutes), they’re cheaper (though only marginally), and they’re more easily accessible (who wants to carry around 50 lbs of books?)… but they aren’t exactly innovative.
In 2010, Ideo put forth their ideas for the future of the book, proposing designs for 3 different types of ereaders that seemed to focus on three user groups: pleasure readers, business professionals, and academics. I’ve posted this video before, but I think it’s worth reposting:
As far as I know, Ideo never planned to produce a prototype of these models–they just wanted to see what they could come up with.
A year later, in 2010, there seemed to be some promising advances in ebook design with Al Gore’s Our Choice. (There’s a pretty cool TED talk video on it featuring one of the book’s developers, Mark Matas ). Our Choice was the first full-length interactive book apps of its kind, incorporating pictures, videos, audio, maps, and infographics in with the text. And from a design perspective, I actually think it was beautifully laid-out and fairly intuitive to use.
More recently (as in just a couple weeks ago), Forbes.com ran an article titled “Are Apps the Future of Book Publishing?” The article reviewed several different book apps. Authors and app developers are playing with some pretty cool ideas, such as:
- extra features, like original manuscript pages and video clips of the author
- interactivity, where the reader actually helps drive the story along
- “soundtracks” that play throughout certain parts of a story
Although none of the books mentioned in the Forbes article are exactly like the models proposed by Ideo, they’re getting closer. And in doing so, they’re moving further and further away from a “book.”
This makes me happy. Very happy. I’ve written before about how the codex book is an inadequate metaphor for an e-text interface. And I’ve commented on how e-books (like those formatted for a Kindle) are spatially disorienting. The format of the traditional book just doesn’t work in a digital medium. Why must we work so hard to re-create a “page-turning” experience? Maybe now that publishers are exploring the possibilities of creating individual apps, we can break out of that codex mold.
So when do we stop calling it a book?
O.E.D. defines “book” as, “a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers.” Last I checked, there is no print, pages, glue, stitching, binding, or cover on an “e-book!”
What should we call it instead of an e-book? Okay, you’ve got me there. (Give me a break–I don’t have my PhD yet.) But please, can’t we lay that God-awful term to rest?