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December 13 2011

Now available: "Breaking the Page" preview edition

I'm thrilled to announce the release of the preview edition of "Breaking the Page: Transforming Books and the Reading Experience" (available through the iBookstore, Amazon and O'Reilly). In this free download, I tackle one big-ticket question: how do we make digital books as satisfying as their print predecessors?

I've studied hundreds of recent publishing experiments, comparing them all to what I've learned during a 20-plus year career as writer, editor, and publisher. My goal: distill best-practice principles and spotlight model examples. I want to help authors understand how to use the digital canvas to convey their best ideas, and how to do so in a reader-friendly way. As app book tinkering flourishes, and as EPUB 3 emerges as an equally rich alternative, the time felt right for a look at the difference between what can and what should be done in digital book-land. That's my mission in "Breaking the Page."

The preview edition's three chapters focus on some basics: browsing, searching, and navigating. This ain't the sexiest crew, I know, but it's amazing how hard it is to get this stuff right. I focus on examples good and bad, toss in a few design ideas of my own, and suggest how to include these services in a way that makes digital books pleasing on eyes, hands, and minds.

Ahead, I've got a head-to-toe tour of model digital book features planned for the full edition (coming mid-2012). I'll be focusing on questions like:

  • What's the best way to integrate — and not just add — different media types? And, on a related note: is it possible to make the viewing experience as seamless and immersive as reading is in print?
  • How do you design content and reading paths on what is, essentially, an infinite canvas?
  • How do you pick the best balance between personalized design (reader-controllable font sizing, for example) and author-driven fixed layout? Are there any acceptable compromises?

While I'm pushing ahead to the finish line, I'd love to hear what you think. Suggestions, examples, critiques … send 'em all my way.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

Related:

May 06 2011

Publishing News: Week in Review

Here are a few highlights from the publishing world. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

Does electronic text disrupt learning techniques?

Kindle DX Pilot Project montage.jpgEreaders are changing the face of reading across the board, and experiments in creating more economic-friendly textbooks for students are increasing. The results, however, are not all positive.

As students attempt to incorporate electronic text into their studies, issues with e-textbooks are starting to emerge — and the problems go beyond poor annotation and sharing tools.

A study at the University of Washington and six other universities in the US involving the use of the larger-format Kindle DX indicated a disconnect between digital text and the way students learn. In a post for Fast Company, Ariel Schwartz cited from the study results:

The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues such as the location on the page and the position in the book to go back and find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.



  • This story continues here. Be sure to check out the interesting discussion in the comments.

Pete Meyers on issues and solutions for browsing digital content

The iPad and other touchscreen devices seem perfect for replicating the page flip. After all, one of the first gestures users "get" is the swipe: it's intuitive, it's quick, it's fun. And despite the power packed into today's tablets, virtual page flipping isn't as useful as its print counterpart. For starters, paging speed is noticeably slower than what you get with a wet pointer finger and the latest issue of, say, People.

A bigger problem lies with a common digital publishing culprit: trying to faithfully replicate all the "features" of print. A regular magazine has pages, the thinking goes, so by golly we're gonna reproduce pages in the digital edition. Lotsa problems with that approach, but for this post let's tackle the "filmstrip"-style page-browser found in many e-magazines. Consider Fortune's, for example:

Fortune
The "Page Viewer" icons are too small to deliver useful info.

What the average eye can easily decipher in each of these thumbnails is close to, approximately, zero. And once you decide you don't want to read, say, the article about Twitter, why the heck do you have to page through each of the article's other unhelpful icons? The system, in other words, replicates the act of browsing without delivering its essential benefit. You get none of the come-hither signals that are easy to spot on a print page: headlines, pull quotes, pictures, sidebars, and so on.

App designers, my suggestion: don't throw the browser out with the bath water. Instead, a little redesign can satisfy the reader's desire to skim quickly and dive in when something looks worthwhile.

  • This story continues here.



Publishers, it's time to realize Amazon is a competitor


AmazonLogo.pngAmazon has launched is fourth imprint, Montlake Romance, to compete in the romance publishing sector. It's Amazon's first foray into genre-specific publishing, and it looks like that might just be the tip of the iceberg. In a post for the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Trachtenberg interviewed Jeff Belle, vice president of Amazon Publishing, who said "the online retailer will eventually publish books in other genres, including thrillers, mysteries and science fiction."

In a post for the Guardian, Alison Flood noted a growing wariness in the publishing industry:

Publishers, however, will be eying the retailer's [Amazon's] increased publishing presence uneasily. "Publishers will be concerned Amazon is increasingly encroaching on what they see as 'their' business," said [Graeme Neill, editor at The Bookseller].

Taking a look at Amazon's other three imprints makes traditional publishers' unease understandable. Amazon launched its AmazonEncore imprint in May 2009. The press release described it:

AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate. Amazon will then partner with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon.com Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.

This is like an indie handselling program on steroids. It gives self-published authors who garner good reviews an opportunity to be represented by a publishing house with millions of customers worldwide.

  • This story continues here.

Photo: From the University of Washington Kindle DX pilot website.



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