Just as live theatre continued after radio, and radio survived TV, and TV goes on despite the internet, so, too, will paper books coexist with digital books for a long, long time. At first, ebook creators tried very hard to mimic the older sibling, which had a few centuries to mature into its own style, with page numbers, chapters, tables of content, margins, and nice bindings.
Finally the ebook is starting to experiment with a style of its own, though the wardrobe changes are happening fast, depending on where you look. Below are a couple ebook trends that I find particularly interesting.
A couple background bits to better understand my interest in ebooks of late — first, I’m a bibliophile and librarian. Second, while I was getting my graduate degree, I took a few classes on user experience design and usability. At the time, I thought about usability in terms of websites for library catalogs, databases, and so on. I was fascinated to see how storytelling became an element of user experience, and now I see user experience entering the realm of book design.
In the paper form, books did not seem to stray far from the traditional codex format. Now that ebooks are morphing into apps, almost anything is possible. The table of contents doesn’t have to be a table anymore, chapters don’t have to follow each other, and the whole notion of page numbers can be turned into something else entirely.
Along these lines, I’ve been following a few blogs that are diving into these questions. My favorites so far:
- New Kind of Book by Peter Meyers – some of his pieces are repeated at the blogs below, but I still think it’s worthwhile to catch each of his posts
- Digital Book World – this multi-author blog looks at ebooks from the publishing point of view, more fascinating than I would have thought
- Publishing Insight on O’Reilly Radar – the more technical side of ebooks and publishing
I’m excited to see the traditional idea of “what is the book” turned upside down. Perhaps, after a heady phase of experimentation, we’ll end up using the old book trappings after all, even in our ebooks. Or maybe, as future writers grow up reading ebooks of varying formats, they’ll begin to write in completely different styles that push ebook formats into further changes.
Another trend popping up again lately (seems to come and go in waves) is serialization. When I think of serialized books, I think of old London magazines in the late 1800s selling pieces of Charles Dickens stories and then later, selling Sherlock Holmes cases to such raging popularity that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to bring the character back after killing him off. I find it somehow strange that there hasn’t been a online serialized story that has gone viral quite like Dickens or Conan Doyle did in their day. The blog format seems like the perfect tool for such a narrative unfolding over time, but it just hasn’t taken off in that way … as far as I know, at least. The closest thing I’ve seen to something like this was the @MayorEmanuel twitter feed during the Chicago election.
Another, shorter Twitter story unfolded recently, as described by Peter Meyers. And there have been reports of serialized ebooks coming out, with various levels of pricing options:
As readers become accustomed to using devices like the Kindle and iPad for subscriptions, I wonder if serialized fiction will make a comeback. We have some serialized fiction now in the form of TV miniseries and sitcoms, but I’m hoping for something better. Deep down I see serialized fiction as the format that will usher in a tidal wave of social reading — people talking about the latest piece of the story over dinner with friends or over coffee at work. Maybe it’s just me, but one big thing I think we would gain from a shared experience of literature (over the shared experience of TV, for example) is the space for imagination, the wiggle room for interpretation that is hardly present (or to a much lesser extent) in the visual and aural world of TV.
Would you subscribe to a novel? Would you read a chapter at a time as it was released, or save them until you had the whole book?
And most of all – what do you see as the biggest difference to emerge so far between ebooks and paper books?