In “The Scholarly Kitchen“, Joseph Esposito writes: “I suspect that the multiple narratives of Pears’s fiction will someday find an analogue in expository writing that enables intersections of one theme or thread with another, which would provide, as it were, a new form of discovery.”
Perhaps that “analogue” is already here for the scholarly article in Elsevier’s “Article of the Future” and Wiley’s “Anywhere Article“. In scholarly expository writing, the intersections are often those of “conversations” among articles, for which the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) has performed and continues to perform an innovatory spark. Consider the activity and ten aims of the Linked Content Coalition.
All of this has been a long time coming. The DOI has its roots in the Handle System, whose roots weave back beyond the Web to the Internet Protocol (IP) itself. Esposito notes Iain Pears’s print antecedents in the experimental ’60s fiction of John Barth and the creator of Scheherazade, and he could have added the 1987 digital precursor Afternoon, A Story by Michael Joyce.
A long time coming, and to the kids in the backseat reading Pears’s Arcadia on their iPads, “No, we’re not there yet … keep reading!”
If the pen can be mightier than the sword, can a bookmark be mightier than Amazon? Bow Software Ltd in the UK thinks so. Using NFC technology, Charlotte Quickenden’s firm has committed “digital metonymy”: a bookmark that delivers the book.
A PhysiDigi Bookmark is a physical form which acts as a digital trigger to download an ebook. A PhysiDigi Bookmark has value, the value of the ebook that it opens for you to read. Therefore if you want to buy it, you purchase the ebook just as you would any other book by exchanging money with the vendor be that bookshop, venue or exhibition. The ebook is then yours. You own it, this is not an ebook lease controlled by DRM. If it’s a good ebook you can lend it, or, if it was a present you can wrap it and gift it. This physical digital thing is tactile, it has visual appeal, and through the act of acquiring it you will naturally have a closer connection to it than a box that you tapped ‘install’. Charlotte Quickenden, MD, Bow Software Ltd., via Bookshops of the Future: Where Physical and Digital Co-exist.
NFC (Near Field Communication) is the wireless transmission of data from a hardware device to another physical object within 10 centimeters of the device. Both must have embedded NFC chips and antennas. Quickenden hopes that her bookmarks with embedded NFC chips and antennas will level the playing field for bookstores, which for some publishers have fallen to less than 10% as a source of sales. Listen to Quickenden describe the PhysiDigi bookmark and watch it in action.
Berggren says he never believed that single-purpose devices like the original Kindle would become widespread, a prediction that seems to be playing out. But he did believe that multi-purpose tablets like the iPad would become most people’s primary e-reading devices, not phones. According to Readmill’s data, however, phones are not only the most popular e-reading device, they’re the best at keeping readers engaged, too.
“It is not only that they are spending more time reading the books because the screen is smaller. Even taking into account screen size, smartphone users read more often, they finish more books in general, they start more books, they share more quotes, and they write more comments,” says Berggren. “This paints a very clear picture that the people that are most engaged with their books are the people who read on their phones.”
Publishing and editorial folk who wish to educate themselves in the changing craft of the book should track this ongoing discussion on the merits of browsers versus apps/devices –even if at times it becomes finely technical.
Books On Books logged several articles on this last year when Jason Pontin declared MIT Technology Review’s colors (decidedly HTML5). Here is another worth a quick read: 5 Myths About Mobile Web Performance | Blog | Sencha. A quick read? Yes, publishers and editors need not be HTML jockeys or Java connoisseurs, but they need to have a business-like grasp of what they are choosing to ride or drink.
Understanding why to publish an ebook through an app or in a browser-friendly format — or both — and what the implications are for crafting finds its rough print analogs in selecting the primary channel and form of publication (trade or academic, hardback or paperback) as well as the structure of the work (design, layout and organization) and working out the financial case for deciding whether to publish and how.
No good history of the book in the late 20th and early 21st century will overlook this part of the book’s value chain. In covering the earlier eras, the outstanding historians — Chartier, Davenport, Eisenstein, Johns, Lefèbvre and Martin, McMurtrie, Pettegree, Pollard, and Suarez — touch on distribution and retail to varying degrees. When it comes to our era though, the effect on the book itself of the distribution/retail roles played by Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, Apple, Google, OverDrive and a host of other smaller key players such as Project Gutenberg will loom larger. (So will that of self-publishing if we consider BookStats‘ report that self-published ebooks represented 30% of ebook sales in 2012. What the effect will be, though, is harder to say.)
Around since 1986, OverDrive has its roots in the production end of the industry, providing publishers with conversion and formatting services from diskettes to CDs to ebooks. Its owner, Steve Potash, set the foundations of its contribution to distribution and retail in 1999-2000 with his participation in the Open eBook Forum, now the International Digital Publishing Forum, and his creation of Overdrive’s Content Reserve. As of this writing, Content Reserve contains over a million ebooks; it is the “overdriver” behind the firm’s library distribution service and the OverDrive Retail Kiosk.
If the OverDrive Retail Kiosk becomes a key to unlocking the way back for book retail in the “real world,” it will by its own definition contribute to the evolution from the printed book to the ebook. Anyplace — in the mall, the main street or high street, the coffee shop, canteen or library — can become an outlet for the purchase of ebooks, which will feed back into the supply and value chains.
No doubt, historians will note that OverDrive required no physical ereader of its own, no Kindle, no iPad, etc., to reach this point in the evolutionary path but rather, it was its dual focus on finding an effective way to rationalize the delivery of multiple formats while pursuing a standard (EPUB) and on meeting the distribution needs of libraries then retail that put OverDrive in its current position. That position is symbiotic with both “closed garden” ereaders and apps as well as books-in-browser solutions.
Just as the Gutenberg press would not have taken off without the regular supply of a more relatively standardized form of paper, the digital book has had to await — is still awaiting — a more standardized format and mechanism of delivery. In reinventing themselves and these parts of the book industry’s DNA, OverDrive and others contribute to the evolution of the book.
The fate of the book is becoming more and more critical as digital replacements ingrain themselves deeper into our society. To me the possibility of the end of the book is a tragic one; I appreciate books as an object as much as I enjoy the stories and knowledge which they hold. I predominantly work with antiquarian books as they often show evidence of their own personal story, perhaps through an inscription on the cover or a drawing on a page which adds a new layer of narrative. The theme for each sculpture may be inspired by a number of things including the title, size, shape or cover of the book. I work with wire, wadding and strips of book pages to create the impression of the sculpture emerging from within a book.
Ironic that Emma Taylor’s site had its main life on Facebook, to which one must subscribe to read the great number of comments on her bookworks. Her Tumblr website, however, displays many, if not all of her sculptures in the series From Within A Book, and in her posting of 29 March 2013 (here from the Wayback Machine), you can find reference to an article from the Cambridge News covering her work as displayed in the local shop Plurabelle Books.
Of course, the bookwork above (made from Poor Folk in Spain by Jan and Cora Gordon, published by Bodley Head in 1922) represents what appears to be a store clerk taking down a book but could just as easily be a housekeeper dusting the bookshelves (after all the chapter in which it appears is named “Verdolay — Housekeeping”). Why “of course”? Small sculpted books created “from within a book.” Tending and caring for the physical artifact by altering the physical artifact. (A touch more irony could have been had with the addition of a tiny computer, iPad or Kindle.)
One direction Ms Taylor’s craft may take to evolve further into art would be to recognize and reflect that the fate of the book and ebook are as likely intertwined and separate in many respects as have been those of the many forms the codex has taken — from incunabula to paperback, bookkeeping to fiction or reference to textbook.
Paratextual devices such as the manicule, footnote, running heads, etc., have their “analogues” in ereaders, ebooks and books-in-browsers such as navigational icons, hyperlinks, breadcrumb trails, etc. Through the W3C’s open annotation specification, even marginalia may be finding a place in the so-called digital replacement to the printed book. With the insights of Matthew Kirschenbaum and others into digital forensics, the digital replacement and its “perfect” copies may yet yield the “evidence of their own personal story.” And if “social reading” takes deep root in the individual reading experience, the reader’s relationship to the author (and vice versa) could be enriched by the reader-to-reader relationship in ways hard to articulate. Ways that will offer the book artist new opportunities to “make it new.”
Earlier this month, we saw the release of the Open Annotation Community Group’s specification of the Open Annotation Core Data Model, an interoperable framework for creating annotations that can be easily shared between platforms. The work, directed by Robert Sanderson and Paolo Ciccarese, began in earnest about six months ago, although it was proceeded by longstanding efforts within and between the editors of the Annotation Ontology and the Open Annotation Collaboration. Under the auspices of the W3C, the efforts merged into the Open Annotation Community Group (OACG).
The OACG model defines an annotation as “a set of connected resources, typically including a body and target, where the body is somehow about the target,” and the full model “supports additional functionality, enabling semantic annotations, embedding content, selecting segments of resources, choosing the appropriate representation of a resource and providing styling hints for consuming clients.” Public rolloutevents are scheduled for 9 April (Stanford University), 6 May (University of Maryland) and 24 June (University of Manchester).
Back in November last year, while the Open Annotation Community Group (OACG) was thrashing through how to handle collections of annotations and other ontological issues, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University held a two-day symposium called “Take Note,” marking the conclusion of a two-year project on the history and future of note-taking. The project also resulted in a virtual exhibition of objects and works from the Harvard University Collections with notes ranging from a price list inscribed on a potsherd to a clothes list on papyrus found in an Egyptian garbage dump to Herman Melville’s annotations of his review copy of Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse (see image above). The exhibition was curated by Greg Afinogenov, Ann Blair and Leah Price, and interestingly, the OACG’s Paolo Ciccarese contributed to building the exhibition’s website.
So besides Paolo Ciccarese’s involvement, what’s the connection between these two events? Perhaps the link is captured in three comments from the participants:
Bill Sherman, historian at the University of York and author of Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England, commented to a reporter, “We’re now in a moment where we’re leaving behind fewer traces of our reading than ever before…. We may have moved to the turning point where…we’ll have to find new ways to leave more behind.” And as Matthew Kirschenbaum has spelt out in Mechanisms, historians will have to learn new ways to decipher what is left behind.
David Weinberger, author of The Cluetrain Manifesto and long-time blogger, tweeted (according to the Harvard Gazettereporter), “”Collaborative notetaking via etherpad or GoogleDocs etc. is often a great way to go. Fascinating to participate in, too,’ during an afternoon presentation that explored digital annotation tools.” Like Bob Stein,the co-founder of the FutureoftheBook.com, Weinberger is a champion of social reading and collaborative creativity.
Another participant told the Gazette’s reporter, “’I was struck by the request that we send our notes into Radcliffe because my reaction was, “You know, my notes are really none of your business. My notes are my private thoughts, my private collaborations.” Until I am dead, I don’t really need other people looking at them.'” That last comment is particularly fetching: one wonders whether William James and Herman Melville had such an eye on posterity as they scribbled their notes now on display across the Web.
As the book evolves and we annotate works in our ereaders (offline or online), how do we ensure that they persist, and whether offline or online, how do we handle how private or public those notes will be?
“[W]hat’s the relationship (legal and otherwise) between an e-book and the annotations added to it by its reader? Are the annotations attached to the particular copy of the e-book, and allowed to remain attached to it when it passes to a new reader, or do the annotations exist in a separate sphere — say, in a personal online database that is the property of the individual reader? … what right does the copyright holder (in particular, the author) hold over the way an e-book is presented? If annotations, or other metadata, in effect become part of the text, permanently or even temporarily, then does that represent a modification of the work that requires the consent of the author? You can’t publish an annotated print edition of a book under copyright without the copyright holder’s permission. Do different rules apply to an e-book?” (Carr’s questions elicited an interesting comment at Futureofthebook.com: “perhaps the interdependence of print and screen books is inevitable….”)
In some respects, by digitizing and reproducing others’ property (appropriately acquired through bequests, gifts and so on), the Harvard University Collections’ virtual exhibition illustrates Carr’s questions and those of the symposia participants — even the comment from Future of the Book — in a beautifully “tangible” way. Think upon it.
Last year, BOB bookmarked the following blog entries:
JMax (http://www.ccsp.sfu.ca/2012/11/books-in-browsers-2012-a-watershed/) “Books in Browsers is a “future-of-publishing” conference. It is arguably the future-of-publishing conference right now. As the name suggests, it is loosely arranged around the idea that the future of the book is wrapped up in the future of the (Web) browser.”
Jason Pontin (http://www.technologyreview.com/news/427785/why-publishers-dont-like-apps/) “Last fall, in version 3.0 of our apps, we moved the editorial content, including the magazine, into simple RSS feeds in “rivers of news.” We dumped the digital replica altogether. Now we’re redesigning TechnologyReview.com, which we have made free to use, and we’ll follow the Financial Times in using HTML5, so that our Web pages will look great on a laptop or desktop, tablet, or smart phone. Then we’ll kill our apps, too. Now we just need to discover how to make the Web pay.”
Nellie McKesson (http://toc.oreilly.com/2013/01/pdf-is-still-better.html) “… our popular eBook formats (EPUB and .mobi) and the eReaders built to read them also currently attempt to mirror the print structure, and limit how publishers are “allowed” to format their content. The EPUB 3 standard promises HTML5 support, but the various eReaders have been slow to adopt the new standard, and even when they do, they’ll likely still offer very limited support for just a subset of the spec. This means we’ll need to find platforms both to create and to distribute these new digitally-redefined eBook products. We’ll also need to train production teams to work with these new technologies, and find authors and editors who can think in the context of the screen.”
But while JMax, Jason Pontin, Anna Lewis and Nellie McKesson argued the case for HTML5 and designing for the screen, the browser developers were embracing PDF.