The Book Expo America trade show was a graphic examples of book publishing industry missing the real e-book revolution now underway. Yet even if Big Publishing doesn't embrace e-books, there were some interesting examples of where technology is going and how it might impact reading in the near future.
This is a case where pictures can do more than words. Here's a video I took at an iPad app product demo by Byook: The idea is to mix graphics, sound effects, music, and some simple animation with text to create a new and effective audience experience.
Any time the medium changes, so does the message. Sometimes you give something up -- you couldn't, for instance, create beautiful illuminated manuscripts with Gutenberg's movable type. On the other hand, you could mass-produce books and actually sell them at a profit.
In other cases, a new medium is so different from an older one -- books and movies are a good example -- that you literally can't tell the same story in both. To Kill a Mockingbird was both a fine book and film, but each had its own sensibility.
The combinations that Byook is playing with suggest how e-books need to evolve, much the way the Internet has. Just think how people now laugh at the static and dull Web pages that companies put up in the mid-1990s.
To see something a bit more coherent about Byook, here's a demo of the company's version of a Sherlock Holmes title:
Another example comes from Medallion Press, which combines animated and interactive illustrations with a traditional story line.
As e-book technology, specifically the ePub standard, continues to advance, expect more publishers to combine different media -- and expect the definition of publisher to change. This could be a natural move for many independent movie producers.
Companies are also trying to bring the experience of a signed copy to the e-book. No, you don't wind up with scrawling all over your new Nook Color. Authography is a start-up trying to market its system to retailers -- you buy the book, the retailer sends it to Authography, which inserts the signature and dedication, and then it makes its way back to you again.
And then there are the e-readers themselves. What was interesting to learn is just how cheap these can get. One company, Aluratek, has a 7-inch color touchscreen e-reader with Wi-Fi for $150. And retailers sometimes run at-cost promotions with the company's low-end B&W (non-touch) reader for $50.
The important thing, here, is not the particular vendors so much as what upstart companies are trying to achieve. The future will bring far cheaper reader hardware (full-feature tablets may have a hard time keeping pace) and more pizazz as publishers all try to find a natural format for the medium.
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