The Difference is Not Just SizeI went into this lecture on Trade Publishing, including a guest appearance from Dan Franklin of the Penguin Random House Digital Team, knowing nothing about trade publishing and its past and winding up very intrigued about its future – especially as someone who brings up recipes on their phone while cooking (or trying to; mostly assisting really!) Dan showed us various ideas Penguin Random House are working on, from projects with tech people all over the world to browser reading and different kinds ways to create enhanced eBooks (including combining The Third Man book and film as well as cookery apps). But – how do you get an eBook right? As our lecturer’s notes point out these are files rather than the devices used to view them and come with various advantages and disadvantages as shown below – both for the user, and for libraries too: Ebook1Ebook2Ebook3 They are portable and usable anywhere (often more easily than the print version) and could revolutionise book lending in various ways (although, some publishers are intent on making this difficult, as ebooks, for university libraries at least, can be very expensive (sometimes a high one off payment, sometimes a case of paying credits for a set number of uses) and are sometimes restricted in the numbers of concurrent users). One of the biggest problems, though, I think is that the ebook reader market has so far been about individual companies releasing a product that will only load their content – or files that fit it, at least.

Amazon’s Kindle is the most successful here, I think, even moving beyond to an app too, meaning you don’t even need the reader to view your ebooks.  It is a shame that this happened, that bookshops and libraries or publishers did not get ahead of the game and get together to create something more interoperable.  eComics maybe developed separately, leading to Comixology, a website and app that sells comics electronically and I’ve used for reading The Walking Dead and Jack of Fables which I have found to be rather good for reading eComics – both online and on mobile, and is a bit better than Kindle for the most part (who did have decent versions of The Walking Dead but have stopped selling them).

For comics, web browser (and tablet too, to be fair) reading works rather nicely as it’s a format that needs to be big – you lose something, I think on a small screen, even when it allows you to work through frame by frame – I mean, how can a mobile (or tablet) app truly do justice to a double page spread – or the first pages of issue 12 of Watchmen.  In terms of compatibility, if not portability as yet, what could be more a sign of the future in eBooks is Pelican’s browser version of their latest books.

Check it out – you can read the first chapter of each book for free – it scrolls down nicely, the text is a nice size (it can be changed too) and the diagrams look pretty good; better than they would on e-ink (though I love how this works – so many tiny balls!).  If this approach can be transferred (as html?) to tablets as a file that can be stored and retrieved, could it become the norm?

Since I wrote all that, and started to stall once more while I thought of, and drew, an illustration, Ernesto tweeted a link to an article by Dan Cohen, Director of the Digital Public Library of America, titled, What’s the matter with ebooks?

In this article Cohen talks about the possible errors being made with eBook statistics, ignoring so-called dark reading by only concentrating on stats from major publishers which would suggest eBook readership has plateaued when it may, in fact, be ever growing.  He also points out further issues with eBooks such as “devices and ebook services are hard to use. Availability of titles, pricing (compared to paperback), DRM, and a balkanization of ebook platforms and devices all dampen adoption as well” and talks about preferring the print edition of the Sunday New York Times over digital because the “paper feels expansive, luxuriant. And I do read more of it than the daily paper on my iPad, as many articles catch my eye and the flipping of pages requires me to confront pieces that I might not choose to read based on a square inch of blue-tinged screen.”

This made me think of another issue with eBooks, or the electronic version of certain types of books – the sort of books you just pick up and leaf through, open on a random page and imbibe.  I did this with Atlases a lot as a child., and encyclopedias, have done with dictionaries (espeicially of Phrase and Fable), and the Mythology book I have in my desk drawer.  Sometimes you want to take a chance and eBooks don’t generally allow for that sort of serendipity.  They are too linear, really.  Perhaps this is somewhere else where web browsers could improve; or where eBook readers will need to improve, if they are to eventually replace print.  Or, indeed, to truly rival print as a medium.  Because the difference is not just in size – web browsers (and tablets, as oppose to eInk readers) can do more at the moment and, through examples such as Pelican and Comixology, it is easy to see that there is much scope for the future.