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E-book evolution

Posted on: July 5, 2011

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Last week I was privileged to meet with a group of people hoping to break into the e-book world by offering a killer e-book app. No, the group wasn’t the one behind the Our Choice app featured above.

As rich and “interactive” as that e-book might seem, it is nowhere near as engaging or game-changing as e-books promise to be. It is still at level 1 in my mental model of how e-books operate.

While I present these as levels or categories, I recognize that e-book evolution is more like a continuum. But it helps to try to identify the major stages in their evolution.

Level 0
This is just a transfer of medium. Traditional paper-based books are converted into PDFs (or other electronic formats) and shared as e-books. These are page turners at best. At worst, they are poorer quality versions of the books and give e-books a bad name.

But there still is a place for such books. As Google gets permission from a few libraries to scan their collections, it is digitizing some artefacts that might be lost if they are not shared with the rest of the world.

Level 1
Like educational CD-ROMs used to do in the past, these sorts of e-books embed media like interactive images, audio and video into their pages. The e-book or app also includes affordances like bookmarking, highlighting and annotating.

The majority of e-books and e-magazines are pitched at this level. They blur the lines between what books, storytellers, podcasts, video clips, movies and current Web pages are.

The older reader might find some of these books a giddy experience and hard to digest. The reader who grows up with these e-books expects all books to be like that.

Level 2
This level of e-book development incorporates social interaction. Readers can share annotations, highlights and bookmarks (like Diigo). They can not only interact with one another but also with the authors, editors or publishers (like you might with Twitter, Facebook or their blogs) without leaving the e-book.

I am confident that this is the next level of development because it is not only logical (it rides the Web 2.0 wave), it is something the group I met is trying to do.

Level 2.5
Publishers might eventually relent and sell chapters of books instead of entire books. Users might then be able to buy chunks or chapters iTunes style.

Quite a few journals already do this when they sell individual articles to users but this practice has a long way to go before it reaches the level of MP3 sales.

This could just as easily be level 1.5, but based on e-book evolution, I see this happening later rather than sooner.

Level 3
This level is booking. This is where readers get even more involved by writing, sharing and critiquing. Kevin Kelly wrote:

The primary shift is one of thinking of the book as a process rather than artifact. We are moving from the culture of the book to the culture of booking. Our focus is no longer on the book, the noun, but on booking, the verb — on that continuous process of thinking, writing, editing, writing, sharing, editing, screening, writing, screening, sharing, thinking, writing — and so on that incidentally throws off books. Books, even ebooks, are by-products of the booking process.

I think this would be the most exciting, game-changing and meaningful evolution of the e-book.

I look forward to the change and will be curating shared resources on booking at my Delicious account.

1 Response to "E-book evolution"

[[The content below is what a spam comment looks like]]

Hey! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new
to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and
checking back frequently!


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