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.
When it comes to acquiring skills and professional training in book publishing, from the early days of the printing press onwards, learning by doing has been book publishing’s order of the day. Consider the following interview exchange between Mac Slocum (Tools of Change) and Theodore Gray (The Elements):
MS: What skills — or people with those skills — must be incorporated into the editorial process to produce something like the iPad/iPhone editions?
TG: Specifically in the case of “The Elements,” the skills required were writing, commercial-style stills photography, Objective-C programming, and a whole, whole lot of Mathematica programming to create the design and layout tool and image processing software we used to create all the media assets that went into the ebook.
Other ebooks might well require different skills. My next one, for example, is going to include a lot more video, so we’re gearing up to produce high-grade stereo 3D video. That’s one of the challenges in producing interesting ebooks: You need a wider range of skills than to produce a conventional print book.
Starting out in book publishing late in the last century, a novice would have consulted Marshall Lee’s Bookmaking and the Chicago Manual of Styleto learn the basics of design, editorial and production. If it were Trade publishing that beckoned, a familiarity with A. Scott Berg’s biography of Maxwell Perkins (“Editor of Genius”) would have been likely.
But as with the acquisition of print publishing skills through learning by commissioning, designing, editing, printing, marketing and selling, the acquisition of the skills required for ebook publishing could use a hand up from appropriate resources. People like Joshua Tallent, Joel Friedlander, Liz Castro, Craig Mod, Matthew Diener are those resources — either by example or authoring — and novices today would do well to start bookmarking their output.
For notes on the availability of formal training and career conditions in publishing, see Thad McIlroy’s The Future of Publishing.
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.
What might be remarkable — or book-markable — is whether the surge in objectifying the book through sumptuous illumination, miniaturization or the creation of book art occurs at definitive moments of shifting media. One-off illuminated manuscripts preceded the invention of moveable type, but was there a definable surge of them in the decades either side of 1450?
The Audubon double elephant folio books appeared in 1820 about the time of Frederick Koenig‘s invention of the steam-driven letterpress.
Are William Morris’s fine editions from Kelmscott Press in 1890 a datum in a surge of book objectification either side of Mergenthaler‘s invention of linotype in 1884?
Last week, the New York Times ran an article about Neale Albert‘s collection of miniature books. Is this popular interest in unreadable books and the surge in altered and sculpted books an anxious reflection of another shift in media?
In “Used e-book, slightly foxed,” Nicholas Carr ponders Amazon’s widely reported patent on a method allowing the resale or giving of ebooks and other digital objects.
Matthew Kirschenbaum might dispute Carr’s view that there is no difference between the new and used ebook however. In his book Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination, he explores the nano-differences between masters and their digital copies, much as textual bibliographers have delved into the meaningful and revealing differences among print editions and even copies of the same print edition.
What if you could download books that had been pre-annotated? I would pay extra to read Freakonomics with commentary by Paul Krugman,The New Jim Crow with notes from editors at The Nation, or the Bible annotated by the creators of South Park. A book could always inspire new layers of meaning, but now it can host that inspiration and a slew of associated conversations.
Thurston’s proposition though is more akin to the digital equivalent of the Norton critical editions or Robert Strassler’s oversized, beautifully enriched Landmark editions of Thucydides, Herodotus and Xenophon. Still, a pre-loved ebook is a different virtual matter and might be desirable to some hapless, non-haptic readers. No doubt, resellers of used ebooks will want to assure their customers that their digital goods are free of lesser annotators’ bytes of marginalia and the latest viruses and Trojan horses favored by vandals and hacksters. How will eBay cope, assuming it can come to terms with Amazon’s patent claim?
But to bring Thurston’s proposition and Open Annotation together suggests another market: the collectible ebook. Can there be such a thing as a rare ebook? Which libraries will be bidding for Clay Shirky’s ebook collection after he has shuffled off his digital coil?
The implications for DRM and copyright are delicious. Recall the hoax that Bruce Willis was considering legal action against Apple over his desire to leave his digital music collection to his daughters? If his collection’s metadata contained extensive annotations providing insight into the music or, more likely, the celebrity himself, why should iTunes’ Terms and Conditions override the family’s claim to the Die Hard star’s intellectual property that they could share (or not) with future celebrity biographers?
In 2003, at McGraw-Hill, we discovered something about making ebooks while working with Dr. Bill Detmer and Unbound Medicine to create Harrison’s On Hand. Don’t start or present through the Table of Contents; start with the Index.
“So a video journalist goes into a bookstore …” and finds little to report. Beset by the BBC’s wallowing in non-events and the trivial, I am probably flailing out unfairly at the PBS’s “dog bites man” story or perhaps indigesting a bit of humbug this Christmas season. MediaShift . VIDEO: Can Print and E-Books Coexist? | PBS.*
At least one commentator (gfrost; Gary Frost?), however, points out what video journalist Joshua Davis and his interviewees failed to explore: “[M]issed is an inherent interdependence between print and screen books. An eerie complementary fit of the different affordances means that neither will flourish without the other.” Now there is a premise worth exploring, which Gary Frost does (see previous posting).
And what would Joshua Davis and his interviewees make of David Streitfield’s story in the NY Times that sales of e-reading devices seem to have reached a plateau? “Even as prices fall, though, the dedicated e-reader is losing steam. The market peaked last year, with 23.2 million devices sold, IHS iSuppli said in a report this month. This year, sales will be 15 million. By 2016, the forecast is for seven million devices — as opposed to 340 million tablets, which allow for e-reading and so much more.”
Streitfield’s story actually begins with “the dog that didn’t bark”: the prices for ebooks themselves have not fallen, despite the predicted result of the US Justice Department’s case against and settlements with six of the big publishers (five, now that two are merging). For Frost’s premise that neither form — ebook or print — will flourish without the other, does that raise the question of whether either will decline without the other’s declining? The rules of logic alone suggest otherwise, but consider Streitfield’s “more counterintuitive possibility … that the 2011 demise of Borders, the second-biggest chain, dealt a surprising blow to the e-book industry. Readers could no longer see what they wanted to go home and order.”
Perhaps the ebook and print are more intertwined than even Frost’s premise implies. Simba’s Jonathan Norris is quoted in Streitfield’s article: “The print industry has been aiding and assisting the e-book industry since the beginning.” Of course, someone needs to point this out with a cattle prod to the publishers withholding their ebooks from public and academic libraries. The site TeachingDegree offers a succinct collection of data (PBS take notes) on the topic in a sort of dialectical digital poster.
Perhaps the whole story is just “human reads book” and is not worth a bookmark, but then where would have been the fun of finding out in punning
with Magritte’s painting that the French for bookmark is either un signet (digital) or un marque-page (print), and in English we can make no distinction?
A few months ago, Greg Smith, a Toronto-based artist, reviewed Claire Bishop’s “Digital Divide” (Art Forum, September 2012). The review and Bishop’s article touch on a recurrent theme in Books On Books: the materiality and immateriality of books.
But the review and Bishop’s article resonate with some more recent and popular seismic tremors in the world of ebooks. With all but Macmillan caving into the US Justice Department, we are still left wondering where and when the consumer benefits in cheaper ebooks will be handed out. The prices on e-reading devices have plummeted, but in the world of ebooks, a slight unease about the inevitability of e-readers is creeping in as tablets and mini-tablets seize the imaginations of some with the loudest digital megaphones. “Are e-reading devices doomed?” And by extension – given that tablets are far more than ebook devices — “Is the trajectory for ebooks leveling off?” While the post-Xmas sales analysis will be more assiduously examined for the “evidence” than the equally predictive gizzards of our Xmas fowls, as Greg Smith paraphrases Julian Oliver, “the New Aesthetician”: material or immaterial, “we should all just keep focused on making stuff.”
William H. Gass’s books Finding a Form and Reading Rilke demonstrate over and over that one of this author’s great qualities is his ability, as Daniel Mendelsohn put it, to leave you “feeling more human.”