Rethinking the future of books

With the introduction of all iPads and other tablet readers we are left with some big question: Are books still relevant? If they are still relevant, how do they need to change?

Craig Mod has written and spoken about the future of books and what we can do with books online with the new technologies for both creating the content and financing the production of the content.

Craig presented the Do Lecture below in 2011 and it caught my attention for a variety of reasons. How do we leverage the new technologies for books and the new devices we use to read these new books.

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Some of the things that caught my attention:

New ways to produce content

We can create more interactive content as part of our books. The new ePub 3 standard includes multimedia content (audio and video) as part of what we put in our books. While iBooks uses a somewhat different format than the standard ebook format it already allows for the inclusion of audio and video.

We can incorporate external video or we can produce our own as part of the book creation process. Whichever way we choose this prompts a new way of thinking about books. If we can embed multimedia content directly into books, how are they now different than regular web pages? Sure, we can’t embed java applets or flash video but we can easily link to pages on the web that have the content.

Are we requiring our users to be constantly online in order to interact with our content? If we add multimedia content to a book, does it mean that users have to be online while reading? For most tablets this is not an issue as internet connectivity is bundled with the device. As designers, however, we need to keep in mind that not all users have wireless connectivity for their devices.

Using Bibliotype as a starting point we can explore alternatives and options for putting content into web browsers and other devices without having to author a full eBook.

What tools do we use to create the content?

One of the things that attracted me to creating ePub content is the variety of tools that are available to do so. Starting with relatively simple tools like Sigil or Pages to create ePub content we can get as sophisticated as we want or need to be. Tools like iBook Creator can provide a high level of sophistication at the expense of being cross platform.

For those of us used to creating multiple versions of a document using an XML base; it is good to know that tools like Docbook can now create ePub 2 and ePub 3 content from the same basic XML document that we have used to create HTML and PDF versions of our content in the past.

Whatever tools we use we need to decide if the multimedia features or access to our content by a specific device make it worthwhile to create multiple versions of our content

Project funding as a means of engagement

We can use sites like Kickstarter as both a fund raising site and as a way to engage our community of users.

Kickstarter allows content creators to setup their project with the following parameters

  • A description of the project
  • The Fund raising steps/stages both the amount and what benefit do you derive
  • The amount to be raised and how long we have to do it
  • A discussion area for the project

Kickstarter acts like an escrow service. If the full amount is raised in the allocated time then each individual contributor’s credit card will be charged for the amount they pledged; otherwise nothing happens.

More than fund raising, Kickstarter allows you to create a community around your project. It’s not just the monetary support that brings the supporters together. They are interested in seeing the project funded and completed for whatever reason they have. They are your funding agency or agencies and they can be your sounding board and your reality check when needed.

Another interesting site is Indiegogo which provides one additional feature that I find interesting: The option of flexible funding where you get all the fund pledged by the target date regardless of whether you met your fundraising goal or not.

How do we engage with book in a digital format?

How does self-publishing change the way we see authorship and authors?

Seth Godin asks the question:

What happens when a publisher has a tight, direct connection with readers, is able to produce intellectual property that spreads, and can do both quickly and at low cost?[ref name=”godin”]Seth Godin created the Domino project as a way to put the publishers closer in contact with their audiences. This is one of the questions he asks on the site.[/ref]

We have to start by accepting that, in this context, we are all publishers and we all have networks or hives of people who can support us in our creative endeavors. Being exposed to feedback early and often is a great way to eliminate uncertainty and provide a sounding board even before the project actually begins. [ref id=’fields’]See chapter 5 and 6 in Jonathan Field’s book Uncertainty for more on creating hives and using them as support mechanisms[/ref]

Blogs as book drafts

We are not only publishers but we’re experts as well. For those of us who blog or maintain a professional or business related website the expertise is right there. We can use blogs to author content, to measure interest based on comments and get feedback from our hive of users.

Does this work for everyone? Probably not. After all we are not all alike in the way we handle criticism and feedback for something that’s not necessarily complete and in a way we’d like people to see it and comment on.

But that’s they key… it is not ready which means that the feedback we get at the early stages of the project will allow us to change the content or even change the project we are working on and this will definitely make the project better.

Creating multiple delivery methods from the same content

When I first started working with Docbook one of the things that attracted me to it was the fact that from the same source, using different XSLT style sheets you can produce different formats for your document.

In the last couple years, the Docbook community has expanded the range of formats and it now includes ePub3. It’s easier than ever to create content in a document neutral format and then convert it to HTML, PDF and ePub without bigger effort than creating customizations to the stock style sheets which we can then reuse on future projects.

Notes and References

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