Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Reading on the web? Changing standards? More disruption?

How do you prefer to read your books? In good old paper and ink? On a no-fuss ereader? A tablet? How about a web browser on your computer screen?

Perhaps I’m asking the wrong question. Let’s rephrase this. How do you actually read your books? (And is that answer, the practicality of it, different than your answer to the first question?) Now how much of your reading do you really do on the web?

Personally, I’d say I do most of my “enjoyment” reading on a dedicated advice, though I do admit, I find myself doing quite a bit of my academic reading on my laptop. So while at first I was surprised to read that a lot of people do their reading on the web, on second thought, when I realize I’m practically attached to my computer on some days, it sure did make a lot of sense. And it made me realize how awesome it would be if the browser experience and the ereader experience worked synonymously. Here’s what I mean. 
I recently came across an article that cited statistics indicating the most popular reading device for the 16 – 29 age bracket is a laptop or computer. While the data set in this study feels incomplete, I was more interested in this writer’s practical interpretation of these results. Her conclusion? These findings could very well be due to a matter of “necessity.”  Will people continue reading on computer screens? Says the article’s author, Janet Swift:

Yes, simply because the advantage of e-books for work, study and research purposes—fast access, ability to search, mean that readers will use what device is available. And in a work or college environment the computer is the ubiquitous device, at least in the short term.

I’m inclined to agree. Moreover, it is unclear what type of books we’re talking about in this study. Textbooks? Genre fiction?

But, even if people are reading on computer screens because it’s convenient, there may still be a captive audience. (And it seems the big booksellers agree, considering they also offer web-based offerings for their customers to use on their computers, such as Kindle Cloud Reader and Nook for Web.)


Additionally, there are some who celebrate that with HTML5, books could actually do some pretty cool things in a web browser. The post calls upon an ebook Google had created a year ago with HTML5 (20 Things I Learned about Browsers and the Web), which features page turn animation, interactivity, and highly designed elements. The author of the Good E-Reader blog post makes an interesting point:

HTML5 books make more sense than paying an exorbitant amount to your programming department to make dedicated apps for all the popular platforms. It would also appeal to people using Blackberry, Meego, Linux, or any other operating system to buy and read books. Make no mistake, HTML5 based books would allow publishers greater control over their content and allow authors to embed the book in their own site to sell copies. Developing for one platform, the web, makes more sense than developing five different apps and having to constantly fix them and introduce new features.

Developing for one platform would certainly be ideal and would take care of all of these conflicting issues between hardware makers. But even that is harder than it sounds. After all, not even web browsers are on the same page yet.

However, I am hopeful that the call for a “better” way will inspire action and get hardware makers to meet at more of a middle ground. (I’m so curious to see what happens with Hachette’s ePUB3 titles this spring.)

On a larger scale, all of this banter back and forth about where readers are actually reading, and how it can be made better, just shows how crazy, busy, and exciting (or scary, depending on your perspective) this space is right now. There are a lot of proposed solutions to our publishing challenges and a lot of great ideas scratching at the surface. And there is still no right answer, really. As Digital Book World so cleverly pointed out, our world is filled with start-ups looking to disrupt/fix/improve/[insert verb] this space.

Although it is nice to envision a world where we are not constrained by formats and competition, we also still have to think about today. And today, we’re dealing with formatting constraints and competition.

To end this post, here is an interesting observation from Peter Brantley of Publisher’s Weekly, who stated the following after attending Books in Browsers 2012:

That’s the lesson for me: the new publishing doesn’t care about formats, it cares about story-telling. It is neutral about content-types, because all content-types can be manipulated on the web. That may seem prosaic, but it is actually revolutionary. We’re used to seeing tools that add video to textual narratives, or synchronize audio-based playback. […] Once technology liberates vision, it is only a matter of imagination becoming real.

That is the challenge though, isn’t it?

Now I’d love to hear your thoughts. Will we see a day where we are platform- and device-agnostic? Are you comfortable reading books on the web? What do you envision for the future?


This entry was posted on November 19, 2012 by in Opinion, Technology and tagged , , , , .

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