My posts on the future of eBooks, describing a vision of tomorrow’s eBook platform (the Miranda Proposal), is a futurist’s view based on years of immersion in the evolution of digital media. But in this closing post of the series I want to calm those who worry about a world of “dancing, singing, and shamelessly social eBooks,” while also presenting some very recent data about paper books, eBooks, and eReaders. Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 Epilogue First, despite these essays, I do not believe that there is going to be a single, inevitable path to describe the future of books. The eBook will evolve in many ways, and we will see different, concurrent, unexpected, and not always complementary adaptations. Just as there will always be those who love quietly paper books, so will there be those who embrace the social reading, interactivity, and creative new applications of tomorrow’s eBook platform. The Miranda Proposal describes an overarching eBook platform and a set of features that will transform books into rich, social, digital multimedia. But several have told me that their reading experience is one of private transportation, with the print book being the perfect vehicle. I share that love of print books as well. And if my ten-year-old daughter and her friends are any indication, that love of print could well survive for generations. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll enjoy this YouTube video from Pearson, which dates from 2010 but is particularly relevant now.) There are, however, compelling reading scenarios that call out for rich media today. Consider how advances in eLearning are converging upon the humble textbook, changing the way students interact with knowledge. Imagine a student clicking through an eBook to a video mini lecture, an interactive illustration, or complementary research. Or reaching out to a live network in realtime for assistance with complex concepts. Imagine members of that network getting “points” for serving as teachers, leading to “mentor badges” that they might even list on their CVs. Unlike a novel, a textbook doesn’t typically transport you; it is a...Read More
The Long Tail of Publishing
There are several companies like Lulu and the Amazon acquisition CreateSpace that are helping writers self-publish their own books. This is similar to the YouTube model, where writers gain popularity through self-promotion and viral word-of-mouth marketing, with their books appearing on Amazon alongside works published through major publishing houses. Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 Epilogue Self-publishing has long been associated with vanity publishing. It’s what you do if you can’t get a professional publisher interested, but you want to see it in print regardless. It’s largely the realm of the amateur: Auntie Irene’s favorite recipes and the calendar made by your local Girl Scout troop. But today’s digital self-publishing world includes a significant, serious, and growing movement: the democratization of publishing. Writers (and artists, musicians, and indy filmmakers) no longer have to rely solely on the rare attentions of traditional publishers; they can gain viral audiences using their own resources and the power of the social web. And it sometimes works on a grand scale; after all, pop star Justin Bieber began his career as a YouTube sensation, 50 Shades of Grey was originally self-published, and Lulu proudly states that “Over a million authors have used Lulu.com.” Some have gone on to achieve market success, with a few best-selling authors included in the mix. There is a place for small-run specialty publishing, and self-publishing may be the best option if you have a book in you whose audience is small but important. Self-publishing is not new, and has a notable history in America. Writing for the Atlantic, Sarah Fay reminds us: “Ben Franklin self-published his paperbound pamphlet Poor Richard’s Almanac. And in 1776, one of the country’s unofficial founding fathers Thomas Paine self published ‘Common Sense’, a 46-page pamphlet that sold over 500,000 copies and helped bring about the American Revolution. During the next two centuries, authors such as Hermann Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Willa Cather, and Mark Twain also self-published.” On the other hand, today’s Web-powered self-publishing can be a bit perilous for consumers. There...Read More
Who Will Develop the Next eBook Platform?
The global eBook platform I have been describing—dubbed the Miranda Proposal in earlier posts—has such powerful potential, both socially and economically, that there will be significant competition among those who would seek to build and control it. Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 Epilogue The leader in the eBook platform war could well arise not from high-tech software and hardware companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, but from the book publishers themselves, who have the most to gain from controlling the platform, and the most to lose if they fail to secure that beachhead. In many ways I hope they succeed. The problem with software and hardware companies controlling our media is that they really want to restrict you, as best they can, to their hardware and software. The companies I mentioned are focused on selling their own devices, so they have a stake in developing a proprietary eBook platform that will only work, or work much better, on their systems. But tomorrow’s eReader won’t be locked to a specialty device, like a Kindle or a Nook. It will be your smartphone or tablet—whatever device you have at hand from whatever manufacturer. All devices are now eReaders, and with cloud technology, each device will know what you are reading and which page you left off, no matter which device you used last. (Picking up where you left off across devices is already a Kindle feature.) The ultimate goal of device manufacturers is to sell devices, not books, so they have little motivation to create marvelous eBook platforms based on open standards. Amazon makes far more selling electronics and clothing than books, and would probably give away eBooks just to entice you to visit their store. There is a real danger in having a tech company control the eBook platform of the future. Apple is already trying to make content itself proprietary, in the area of self-publishing. The license agreement for iBooks Author states “If you want to charge a fee for a work that includes files in...Read More
What is the eBook Platform of Tomorrow?
I’ve described several important aspects of the digital evolution of the book, making references to an overarching eBook platform that will embody all these wonderful technological advances. But let me take a moment to better define the eBook platform as I envision it, and to give this vision a name: the Miranda Proposal. Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 Epilogue The platform isn’t the file format of the eBook itself, although that is a very important part of the equation. Today there are many eBook formats, but I believe that EPUB3 and its descendents will become the dominant standard. Most devices support the EPUB format, the notable exception being the Kindle, but Amazon may soon embrace EPUB3 as well. EPUB3 was developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum, and I have great faith in open standards, especially those that benefit society, level the playing field, and support device portability (and not a single company). A platform is also much broader than the specific eReader software used to read the eBook. There are many interesting eReaders available. Some, like the Kindle, are almost synonymous with their devices, although you can read Kindle books through a Kindle app on virtually all mobile devices and tablets. There are proprietary eReaders from companies like Microsoft and Apple, and open eReaders that support a wide range of formats. Some eReaders are already taking advantage of EPUB3 features, like rendering mathematical formulas, sharing annotations, and linking to additional resources. Some cater particularly to education, some to science and research. But the eReader is your point of contact with your eBook, it isn’t the whole platform. The eBook platform will be a much broader system, like Facebook or SalesForce.com; one that extends the functionality of your eReader in multiple dimensions. One dimension I discussed in a previous post is the ability of the platform to support a vibrant third-party application marketplace, including application developers. Another aspect of the platform, also previously discussed, is the ability to extend into outside systems, especially social networking. An eBook...Read More