Archives for posts with tag: future of reading

Rueda Bench

Sitting in Union Square Park this morning, watching as drops from yesterday’s deluge were made into rain again by breezes in the canopy, catching the sunlight as they fell, I tried to resist the urge to look to the bench at my left, where some guy seemed to want everyone to know how much fun he was having with his music. “Oh yeah!” he kept exclaiming, “CCR! Creedence Clearwater. Born on the Bayou.” And started bobbing and making guttural noises which sounded not quite like the bass line and rhythm of that song.

I really just wanted to watch the shining drops that kept falling in the center of the park whenever a breeze came up, but he kept exclaiming louder, and soon all I could focus on was his aggressive enthusiasm for music I couldn’t hear.

I thought, if I shift to the far end of my bench to give him some distance, he might calm down. But this action seemed to encourage him.

Whenever you encounter someone like this in New York, you run through a threat assessment first. Might they stab you? Are their hands empty? Do they look capable of strangling someone? I ran through the possibilities in my head, medicalizing his behavior, coming to all kinds of rational conclusions as to what might ail him, leaning toward something typically harmless like Asperger’s, and finally, as he burst out with an even louder “CCR! Oh yeah, I can’t believe I’m listening to Rock N Roll Music,” and as I looked across at a man in commando garb, doing boxing routines, and another man, mostly toothless, pouring a beer into a plastic cup he’d pulled from the recycling, I thought, “Oh yeah. Oh yeah is right. They’re all just maniacs.”

It’s never wrong when you find yourself surrounded by maniacs to ask yourself what exactly you’re doing in the same place at the same time. The truth is, I was sitting there obsessing, in my own way, on the idea that has consumed us for four-and-a-half years now, that the act of picking up a book to read is an important event that implicitly connects you to the other readers of that book AT THAT MOMENT. At its most far out, the notion that no matter how obscure the book, that finally we might have an efficient way to know that we’re not alone in sitting down to read it, that the connection may now be made explicit, whether we take action through it, or simply become aware of it via, say, the arrival ding of another reader. At the very least, we should be able to ANNOUNCE it in some way, if we want. Don’t call it a “check-in,” or you’ll get immediate backlash from people, at least in this city. Whatever we decide to call it — paragraph ping, book ack, page status — it’s that moment when you let your circle of trusted connections know that you’re engaging with something permanent. After all, books have the same kind of permanence that locations do, even though their actual locations move around. Their interiors are worlds in themselves, full of solid reference points that change either very little or not at all. If you check into the third paragraph of a chapter of Faulkner, it’s as likely to change as a particular piece of bedrock in Central Park. Conversely, twenty years from now, what good is it to know that you checked into your local Starbucks?

Maniacs exaggerate simple truths about human nature. There’s a part of us, when we engage with something we like — whether it’s queueing up CCR or Kanye, or opening a copy of Go Tell It On The Mountain or Song of Myself or the Bible — that rejoices in the idea of having other people know. No one can say that they have never, when listening to music or looking at art or reading a great story, thought to themselves “Oh yeah! I can’t believe I’m experiencing this! I want people to understand that this experience is worth having!”

This is normal. Otherwise, these things wouldn’t move us in the first place.

I don’t know why I’ve become so intent on this idea, but I’m probably going to keep struggling with it until I get it right. And I’m well aware that in the last three years, everyone else has become interested in it, and there are plenty of implementations of things that attempt to make this idea reality. But I haven’t yet seen one that gets it right. Even my own. I wish I could convey it better with words, but I think the only expression of this that will open people’s eyes is actual execution and delivery.

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Add this into the mix as one more theory on the future of the Book. Following the evolution of current distribution channels along to an interesting and somewhat sustainable outcome, and forgetting the notion that printed paper pages will somehow endure, let’s suppose that “bird books” and landlocked books continue to exist in harmony, except with landlocked books being essentially shells of what we think of as paper books.

Propelled along by Moore’s Law, the landlocked book sheds its paper interior, which is also the bulk that makes it so costly to ship and produce, and gains instead a slim flat panel display, mounted on a cardboard structure to give it a certain width. This may be the day such a display becomes cheaper to produce than its packaging — 7 cents, to be inexact.

The system contained on the chip in such a device is harder to predict. Perhaps it will be KindleOS, or iPhoneOS, or Android. It doesn’t matter to anyone, because you won’t download other books onto it, or jump on the web, or even be online. It will be engineered to deal with one specific book. If that book has video, it will be compiled to handle that, or if it needs to pull in web feeds, it will have basic network capability. Etcetera.

The binding, hard cover, and jacket will look and feel just exactly as book readers would expect it to look — and no print book designers will be harmed in this evolution, they will all just become jacket designers. The thickness of the packaging will even allow for a spine, so you can continue to clutter your shelves with these shiny objects, and when you want to read, select your title by looking at spines, pull one out and sit down and read in your cozy chair just as if you were reading an old fashioned print book, sans Kindle, sans iPad, sans anything that remotely feels like a “device.”

So the Holdout Theory posits that, since publishers and hardware manufacturers both have enough vested interest in distribution methods they already understand, rather than ones they can’t seem to figure out, that creating a future like this is a matter of deliberately holding back the evolution of the ethereal, un-landlocked, “bird book” in favor of one that ships and sits on retail shelves and feels like an object and not an intangible bunch of data.

I have to admit, it’s not too bleak a picture, to imagine that one day we will have both the iTunes or the Netflix of digital books as well as an option to buy something very object-like, even if it’s just a package with a machine inside. After all, it’s working pretty well for software manufacturers.

Those who follow the tech world probably spent yesterday afternoon anticipating the big announcement at Twitter, which turned out to be a few new features, slightly different UI, and a bunch of improvements on the back end that no one can really see.

Ninety million tweets a day is nothing to cough at, but it’s no surprise we’re seeing major feature-convergence between Twitter and Facebook. The one thing in common seems to be the experience of sharing and talking about media. From links to videos to pictures, anything and everything we come across online can now have a near real-time stream of global conversation associated with it. Except books.

Twitter got on this trend by adding a pane on the right hand side of the tweet stream where embedded media can be viewed without ever leaving the site or missing new posts to the stream itself. The only thing missing, which most tech people probably don’t notice or care about, is books. You can see excerpts from articles and web pages, or watch videos pulled in from YouTube, or see shared images, but it seems odd that one of our most interesting, vibrant and compelling forms of media is missing. Why can’t we embed an excerpt from a book in our tweets, and have it display in the right hand pane for our associates to comment on? What do we blame for this omission? Lack of user demand? DRM? Formats? Lack of available content?

It’s not true that book content is lacking online. Amazon’s Look Inside preview, Google Books, Feedbooks, the list of sites with full and partial books available in browsers goes on. And plenty of small technology companies (like us) are making books fully integrated with the Web, giving each paragraph its own URL. Smart people have built software that unpacks and renders Epub files right in the browser. Epub itself is an encapsulation of Web technology. So why should books lag so pitifully far behind other forms of media, to the point that they’re completely ignored by one of the most important communication tools we’ve invented in recent years?

People may not know that they want book content to be seamlessly integrated with the rest of the Web, but once it’s there, they’ll see a new dimension to what the Web actually can be, and they’ll never want it to go away. The permanence of books is something entirely fresh among the billions of temporary URLs meant to last only a short time. How useful it would be to allow them to start accruing social capital in the form of Twitter and Facebook discussions, the way we’re already doing with other forms of media! That kind of data, built up over time, will stay relevant much longer than the latest Tweet stream about the latest YouTube meme.

The answer seems to require an entire book to explain. My gut feeling, after having struggled through discussions with publishers, is that not enough important authors, agents, and publishers want to see this happen. They see no value in it, and are simply afraid of the consequences. Publishing is an old and powerful empire in decline, and stupidity reigns supreme among the top decision makers. Couple that with a willful ignorance and contempt of Web technology, and you have a deliberate sabotage of an almost perfect container for human thought, while in the meantime other media and technology advance in step to further the irrelevance of our beloved Book.

It’s quite possible that we’ll see, over the next fifty years, a strain of thinking we could call “Web thought” overtake what might be called “Book thought,” eventually eliminating it completely. The idea that any work created by an individual needs to be monumental and self-contained is already under attack, and generations to come might consider it a fairly primitive concept worth ignoring in the name of progress. Some people, especially among Web-savvy communities, already think this way.

Someday the majority of authors might simply consider themselves “Web authors” who don’t want to be contained and aren’t concerned with the permanence of their own work as much as they are concerned about making a lasting contribution to the hive. As an aspiring author myself who has completed many short stories, two novels, and other works I consider things that stand on their own, attributable only to me, and as a reader who appreciates great writing that also stands on its own, I don’t want to see this happen, and I think I speak for a lot of people on that point. But as a technically savvy person, a programmer and web designer, I see it happening already. And I see it manifested in the rapid advance of companies like Facebook and Twitter. Ultimately, I think the responsibility falls into the hands of the users of these services: if they don’t see books as a potentially vital and important part of the Web, the Web will replace them with something else. And if publishers continue to assert that books can remain relevant while disconnected from the rest of the flow of human thought, discourse and experience, then they too will be replaced.

To download the Web and put it into an e-book file, you’d need to download some 550 billion documents. You’d need authorization for all of those, since only 25 billion or so are publicly indexed. You’d need at least a 100,000-terabytes of RAM and a specialized meta-search engine that would act as both a table of contents and index.

You’d need a reading system that could support many different content types, beyond even what a standard browser supports. Some kind of e-book operating system would be in order, something that combined all the capabilities of Unix, Windows and Mac OS X into a web browser interface.

And you’d need bandwidth. Anything that took slower than a week to download all 91,000 terabytes would be too slow. Everything would have radically changed by then, and you’d have to re-download it.

Until we get the technology to do that, it’s safe to say that the Web is not an e-book. It’s something different than a book altogether. But I think it’s also safe to say that books are still excellent vehicles for the kind of things we find on the web. Just as a photograph is a record of a moment in time, full of information that probably changed and shifted the split second after it was taken, a book is a container that creates permanent value from impermanent data.

It’s nice to think of the Web as an entity that strengthens its connections over time, builds permanence within its constantly changing layers, takes its own photographs. But the nature of interdependence and constantly shifting connections makes it a poor medium to capture itself.

This is why books, even as they become more dependent on the Web, will benefit from their encapsulation and fixity. Books could become the perfect snapshots of the Web.

A browser’s cache, something like a book, ends up storing a variety of documents that, in total, represent pathways of interest for a particular user: tours of individual sensibility through a vast maze. A digital book platform could be likewise be an editor’s tool for downloading, storing and collecting the Web. An entirely new publishing industry could spring up from culled and curated content bound together into digital editions, each connected to each other, reflective of the Web and connected to it when possible, but not fatally part of it. It would be a web of books capturing the temporal flashes most deserving of permanence.

Perhaps such an ecosystem will become the best alternative to downloading everything. Who will build a tool to make it happen?

This week Mashable posted an article “Social Experience is the Future of Online Content

What really stands out is the phrase “Content acquisition alone can’t be the final answer.” This is true, and something you’ll hear us saying frequently at BookGlutton. Don’t get me wrong, we spend quite a lot of time in meetings acquiring content for our readers – it’s important to have the right books. But that will never be a major differentiating factor. Publishers want to sell through multiple channels in order to reach the maximum number of users.

For free books this is already obvious. You can download Winnie the Pooh from almost any online reading system or bookstore (it even comes pre-packaged with Apple’s iBookstore). No one seeks out the store that has this specific book. As time goes on no one will be going to a particular store to get Random House books or Penguin Classics just because that’s the only place to get them. Instead they’ll be available almost anywhere, and you’ll be going for the experience. The user interface, the animation, the ability to connect with others and share your thoughts, will be what really matters.

That said, I have to caution: don’t confuse experience with features. In many reading systems, features can be the equivalent of Photoshop filters, cool to play with but only really used on occasion. Many reviewers like to tally up features, as if the program with the most wins (one only needs to look at the success of Apple’s software to see simplicity and alignment with user needs can win out). After all, the ability to make your font purple is nice, but most users are more about utility and connection than customization. I know there are some that may disagree – I have a friend who would read everything in Adobe Jenson Pro if he could (though I often wonder if he would bother to change every application he installs to do so). But in the end the most successful tools in life are ones that fit in with how you live your life. And that’s something we’ve believed in for some time.

Publishers! BookGlutton has a free content management system that reads EPUB, incorporates Onix, and uses the agency model. The BookGlutton Publisher Program lets you:

* -Maintain your publisher profile page
* -Interact directly with your readers and customers
* -Maintain a catalog of your EPUB titles
* -Instantly publish on a per-title basis
* -Control whether your files may be downloaded or not
* -Set your own prices on titles, changing them at any time
* -See real-time sales reports across all titles
* -Receive notifications whenever a title is sold

The basic steps to selling books with us are:

1. After signing up for the Publisher Program, upload a DRM-free EPUB file (for those not using an Onix feed).

2. Set any metadata not contained in the file, including price and cover image. You can set an ISBN to pull in GoodReads reviews, adjust price at any time, flip on download-capability using this menu.

3. Preview and publish the title, from the same menu.

You’ll always have a page that tells you which titles have sold the most, how much you’ve made, and what you’re owed. You can also set different email address to handle sales notifications and follow requests.

You automatically get a Publisher Page: post a logo, use the wall for announcements, manage followers, and show recently added books.

Signing up to become a publisher is easy and can be done at the bottom of any page

For the latest, greatest news about BookGlutton.com check out the December Newsletter. We’ve introduced GIFTING, so you can now buy a book and give it to someone else. You can also learn about FAVORITES and COLLECTIONS.

Read it all HERE.