What else might the eBook be?

Peter JonesInformation Ecology, Wu Wei

Since our University of Toronto eBooks User Experience study has been completed, its time to share what we found. But first, I’d like to compare some current progress between different eBook and future book research initiatives. I’m tracking projects such as OCAD’s SmartBook, the Institute for the Future of the Book, Dave Gray’s “unbook” collaborative, and the JISC eBook study.

In the AIGA website Andrea Marks writes about her maiden publishing project, and the possibilities fo authoring an eBook rather than a printed publication. As a graphic design professor, the printed artifact appears significantly preferable, laden with possibility for design and expression. When offered the opportunity to write for an eBook, she had mixed feelings.

As excited as I am about new technology and all it has to offer, I had a hard time mustering enthusiasm for an electronic book. Perhaps my reticence had to do with the clunky e-books I had seen to date, some nothing more than a scanned print book, with little or no interactivity. And call me old fashioned, but I really love the sensation of flipping through the pages of a printed book. An afternoon spent at Powell’s Books (a great independent bookstore in Portland) is one of my favorite pastimes. “Flipping” through an e-book equated to tapping arrow keys on the computer. My first reaction was disappointment, but then I started to rethink the possibilities. What else could the “e” in e-book stand for besides electronic?

An expandable book—with the addition of links and other media.
An educational book—encouraging learning through interactivity.
An economical book—costing nothing to print and publish.
An environmental book—no paper, no waste.
An ear-friendly book—one that could be heard by the vision impaired, thanks to Read Out Loud software capabilities.
An exciting book—not only fun to create, but enjoyable to read and experience.

One thing you will never see with a print book is the statement that the book is offline. Is it not ironic  that the Institute for the Future of the Book shows this page (at the original time of writing?)

The following sites are currently undergoing maintenance:

Yes, I should have posted this a few weeks ago, but the message remains valid. The eBook as a media type will continue to evolve. The eBook we know as a scan of the print codex will be maintained for years to come. But this version should also be maintained to signal  the formality of books that require a print identity – historical, archived, and popular books, and citable scholarly works. The PDF document format that represents the printed page is efficient and preferred for genres like journal articles, 10-20 page pieces that can be read either in print or skimmed in its electronic view.

But we might recognize the eBook as a new media type has just started its evolutionary cycle. Many other configurations of single author content can be designed for specific consumption in mobile or web contexts. While we might not recognize these materials as “books” today, they will fulfill the same purposes as eBooks – single-author works or anthologies of mixed media – edited, validated, citable, portable, digital, and with full and unlimited potential for multi-media authoring (text, illustration, sound, and video).

The label eBook itself is similar to “horseless carriage,” identified by what we understand of it in its current media era. McLuhan Laws of Media theory points to this as an opportunity to reimagine the genre of book.

The leading innovations of the electronic “book” will move toward an organized decomposition of knowledge objects that are recomposable by the reader given their interest and needs.  Individually selectable, sortable, findable, navigable content – authored and editorially prepared, but designed to be co-constructed by readers (or “users”).

Consider one type of new media transformation, the replacement of the medical textbook with mixed-format web media. Elsevier’s  Procedures Consult currently augments the use of textbooks in learning procedures and surgeries.  Each procedures is presented with a rich integration of text content (both list steps and complete details with references), anatomical and procedures images, and hybrid video with animation. The interaction enables the learner to interact with the content using multiple channels of attention may eventually replace, the ponderous procedures textbooks doctors-in-training were burdened with for many years.  Procedures are a hands-on skill requiring deep supporting knowledge, so the design of a multi-channel learning resources makes sense in this context. But these are the kinds of leading innovations that might herald the transformation of many types of books into portable, digital, authored learning experience platforms.