Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
I think we’ve safely established that this is an exciting—feel free to infuse the word with your undertone of choice—time to be recharting the waters of the publishing industry. Books still matter, but they’re undeniably undergoing a transformation. What the next generation refers to as “books” may have little to do with the bound, self-contained, insular objects we chewed on as babies, cavalierly dog-eared as teenagers, and now hold with a sense of incipient nostalgia.
Yeah, it makes me a little sad that ereaders and tablets mostly just smell like plastic rather than the musty wisdom of the ages (I wanted to say “musky,” but that makes it sound as if I like books in a whole ‘nother way). But as content evolves and ebook technology develops, who knows? Enhanced ebooks that mimic the scent of their predecessors might not be entirely out of the question.
What do I mean by the evolution of content? For starters, books are going to become much more of the moment. Last week, NBC News announced that it has established NBC Publishing, and will be putting its video and audio content to use in creating its own enhanced ebooks. According to a Publishers Weekly article, along with material derived from various NBC News outlets like Today, NBC Nightly, Dateline, and Peacock Productions, the publishing unit will also draw from other divisions of NBCUniversal, including NBC Sports, Universal Pictures, and Telemundo. The article goes on to explain that NBC ebooks will be based on “current events, documentaries, trends, biographies, and profiles.”
NBC Publishing plans to release about thirty titles per year, possibly in print form as well as digital, although I doubt that this will happen. The allure of these books will be their immediate relevance and fancy enhancements. With a few exceptions, it sounds like NBC titles will mostly be the books of today—and what’s the point of creating print editions of books that have no relevance tomorrow?
The immediacy trend is becoming even more pronounced in traditional publishing. At the Digital Book World conference a couple of weeks ago, Sourcebooks, a Chicago-based publishing house, introduced its Agile Publishing Model (APM): another vehicle of information delivery tailored to meet the ravenous, instant-gratification needs of the digital age.
APM will apply to some nonfiction books and content written by experts, releasing ebooks composed of three or four chapters of a title at a time, until the entire book is complete and ready to be released in both print and ebook format.
According to Dominique Raccah, as cited in an interview with Publishers Weekly, “it’s meant to be a platform for experts immersed in a community. The traditional publishing model, with a turnaround that takes a while, frustrates authors who are experts, because their fields change all the time.”
An additional benefit is that audience response will be incorporated into the final product; almost like preemptive peer review, with the opinions of expert colleagues influencing the work before it’s published in its entirety.
The immediacy trend isn’t just for experts. Us layabouts of the world have Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere, Kindle Direct, and the new Apple iBooks Author app to work with; but what about when we need something that’s “between nothing and a blog,” or a “tweet with an attachment”? According to Frédéric della Faille in this TechCrunch article, that is exactly what his creation, CheckThis.com, is for.
CheckThis is a micropublishing tool that lets users create and share a single, attractive webpage in mere seconds, circumventing the need to set up a new blog to serve a one-time need. According to TechCrunch, “you can use CheckThis to create a stand-alone page to sell your bike, hire a new developer for your startup, tell people what you’ve been up to today, set up a really quick poll, share an Instagram or Flickr photo, a party invitation with a map, a Vimeo video or whatever other casual need you might have. Quick, simple, beautiful.”
Not only is everything going to become more immediate, we’re also trending toward much greater immersion in our content. Startups like BookTrack create evocative, thematic soundtracks that automatically track the user’s reading, courtesy of a screen test that determines the reader’s speed in order to ensure that the music will play without interruption when the page turns.
Mark my words: scratch-and-sniff enhanced ebooks aren’t going to be the stuff of my dreams for much longer.