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The Reading World

E-books aren’t just digital pages

Follow the Reader‘s Susan Ruszala writes that she’s not bonding with the Sony Reader she received from the company recently. The problem reduced to a few words is, the digital book does nothing new or special. Publishers need to realize that a book converted to digital format is still less than a book, a “flat […]

Follow the Reader‘s Susan Ruszala writes that she’s not bonding with the Sony Reader she received from the company recently. The problem reduced to a few words is, the digital book does nothing new or special. Publishers need to realize that a book converted to digital format is still less than a book, a “flat tire,” as Alan Kay describes badly designed technologies seeking to replace an existing technology.

Susan suggests book-club pricing schemes, and that may be an attractive way to bundle the choice of a few books out of the gate. Audible used to do something similar, letting people choose five books when signing up for a year of service, but that’s not the problem.

The problem is that e-books over-promise and under-deliver. They don’t do anything a book does, other than display words. They don’t help readers understand the text better and they don’t even show readers where they are in the book, which they can assess with a glance at the pages in the book. She suggests a calculator that tells how long, at one’s current reading pace, one will take to finish a book.

How about a simple volumetric display, a kind of at-a-glance view of how far through the book the reader is, so you can see there is only a third of the book or some such easily understood view of progress?

Susan concludes with: “I believe there’s a real danger that their curated and edited content won’t be as widely consumed as it could be—and that is a far bigger danger.” I think that’s missing the point. Curation, which means helping people find their way through books or ideas, and editing, which means working to improve the quality and authority (by vetting for accuracy), does add value. Just scanning a book, especially without adding the benefit of experience since it was published in paper—what if the author has learned a lot, or that the whole thesis they wrote about, is wrong—is what will make a book stand out from any other words packaged for the page.

Interestingly, though most people don’t understand it was so, this exactly the same problem publishers had in the early centuries of print.

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