The Changing World of E-Books

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Peter Brantley (L) and Mike Shatzkin (R)

Peter Brantley began by noting that e-books originally were repurposed print equivalents, initially in PDF format. But that has all changed.  Peter Brantley, Director, Bookserver Project at the Internet Archive, and Mike Shatzkin, Founder and CEO, The Idea Logical Company, told us about the e-book environment today.

Traditional books were developed to facilitate communication between people.  We are now communicating all the time through a variety of methods taking advantage of digital networking.  We are able to take advantage of different ways of accessing and sharing information.  Now, software engineers have met the book, which raises different problems:

  • Simple works best, and there is a focus today on creating elegant presentations on screens.
  • How do we navigate through information and absorb it?  This has caused us to think about the design of books.
  • Text is still very desirable for people.  We will continue to tell text-based stories.  Technically, text is easy to present on a screen.
  • In an academic space, a wide range of content is available to present to readers, and systems allow readers to talk back.

We need to think about whether we are primarily engaged in storytelling.  Maybe video is the best way to tell a story–we must think about how to tell a story, not what the story is.

Mike Shatzkin passionately presented the publisher’s view.  The simple fact is that a return on investment must be made or the venture will fail.  Publishers did not publish e-books early on because people were not buying them.  The Kindle succeed because it had a larger screen, Amazon was selling it, and automatic downloading was launched.  Very soon, publishers recognized that there was a market, and e-books took off.

Digital publishing will cause the price of books to plummet, so there will be less money available for publishers and authors, which is why publishers have been trying to keep prices up.  Publishers tried enhancing the books, which failed because people just want to be left alone to read the book.  If the book is made for “immersive reading” (from start to finish), simple repurposing will succeed. Anything else is an experiment; there has been no indication that it will succeed.

If publishers start to obtain source material and author’s notes for a book and insert them into the XML for the book, they will produce a product valuable to scholars, which can be sold for a high price.  Although this will not greatly increase their revenue, it will enhance their position in the e-book world and expose their products to new markets.  Professional publishing techniques and practices will spread to trade publishing when this happens.

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