Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Publishing Interactive ebooks: Are Device Makers Missing the Point?

The Yankee Group report, titled  2011 E-Book Forecast: Get Set for the Next Best-Seller, highlights how the e-book market is set to take off. E-book sales are projected to grow to $2.7 billion by 2013 with a compound annual growth rate of 72 percent, according to them. This is massive growth we are talking about.  By 2013, Yankee Group estimates that consumers will buy over 380 million e-books.

For all you bibliophiles, you will mostly be one of the e-book buyers, and you would be considering the following electronic book-reading options:
  1. Purpose-built dedicated ebook readers such as the Amazon Kindle, Sony eReader, Barnes & Noble Nook Color,  and so on.
  2. General-purpose tablets such as Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Xoom and others.
  3. Smart phones  for those of you who don't mind straining your eyes a bit.
  4. Laptops and personal computers for those who don't mind spending those reading hours in front of computers.

Dedicated ebook readers don't support interactivity as well as tablets do today. They seem to miss the point. Reading as we know it is changing fast, and so is publishing. Increasingly, users will expect embedded and streaming audio, video and gaming into all kinds of reading experiences. Clearly, device makers will have to recognize the need and build platforms that make this possible.

It's not only the device manufacturers that need to take note. Software developers will need to build apps that enable interactive book reading experiences. One recent examples is Flipboard. Tools will have to enable publishing to these platforms.

Publishing formats will need to evolve as well. Most titles already provide readers with standard ways of interacting including text highlighting, annotation, sticky notes, bookmarking and so forth. EPUB and PDF eBooks support some interactive elements, including hyperlinks, cross-references, and audio/video via embedded SWF files. These publishing formats were originally designed for standard narrative text. They will have to push the envelope further and support interactive elements. If not, content creators will abandon ebooks and start publishing apps instead.

Indeed, the very idea of a book is ready for a paradigm shift. People may want to buy individual chapters or sections, and pay differently for the same book depending on the level of interactivity desired.