The Next Evolution In E-books

Get ready for digital tomes that are a lot more immersive, and a lot less simply scanned in.

Forgive me for going all Jerry Seinfeld, but what’s the deal with e-books?

Instead of harnessing the power of tablets and other mobile devices, we’re often left looking at something that is more or less a scanned-in version of a hard copy book.

At least that’s how I know I felt when I was working on my first ebook, Blogging for Badass Small Businesses. I spent hours worrying about layout and design only to find out I’d have to re-create a stripped down version in Microsoft Word if I wanted to upload to Amazon Kindle. No fancy formatting—no bullet points, special fonts, headers, or footers.

Don’t get me wrong, the faux page turn effect is cool and all and it’s nice to be able to flip through pages with the swipe of a finger, but there’s got to be something more. That’s where the folks from San Francisco-based startup Madefire come in. They’re hoping their new touch-publishing platform Motion Books will help artists and creative types fully embrace the power of mobile devices to create immersive reading experiences.

According to Madefire CEO Ben Wolstenholme, it’s not about throwing technology at digital publishing for technology’s sake—it’s still all about storytelling and the user experience. “Everything should serve the story. With traditional print, readers are pretty much limited to turning a page for a surprise or unexpected reveal. But with mobile devices and e-readers, it’s possible to do so much more” said Wolstenholme. “You can create a specific mood and atmosphere. You can use movement, sound, and visuals to enhance a story without taking away from it” he added.

Rethinking the digital reading experience meant starting as if they didn’t know about print. Based on what they’ve done so far, that mind-set has enabled Madefire to look past the virtual page turn to find new ways to leverage the power of e-readers and mobile devices to create some truly immersive reading experiences. As of now, their focus is on graphic novels and comics, but it’s doesn’t take much to imagine a similar experience coming to more traditional book titles in the very near future.

As more and more books move to mobile devices and we continue to blur the lines between our physical and virtual worlds, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that our stories are only going to become more visual, shorter, and a lot more interactive.

[Image: Flickr user F_lavins]

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8 Comments

  • Bart_at_EB

    One reason I prefer the e-ink experience is that I am isolated from the flashing colors, beeps, and intrusive messages. I have enough of that with my work on the computer. There I have a limited attention span and can only read one or two pages before I am off onto something new.

    Reading for me is a one-to-one experience between me and someone I trust. I find that the bells-and-whistles are unnecessary complications.

    Progress is not just about adding flash. It can mean simplifying one's life to include only the important things.

  • Marcelo Figueiredo

    Allow me to be skeptical and a bit reactionary on this. Some geeks believe technology can change reading for the better, by altering radically what a book is. A book is actually quite a simple object: just a shorter or longer stream of text —i.e., a language product— recorded on a surface easy on the eye (and, if possible, to the hand). Indeed, the physical format of the book has changed along time: before the modern “codex”, there was the “awkward” scroll. Now we can read from electronic screens, some small enough to fit in the pocket. It is such a gain in convenience and comfort, that anyone who gives up paper books for good should be excused. But the essence of the activity of reading has remained constant. If I don’t feel enticed by Madefire’s storytelling promises, I may point out to their current focus on graphic novels and comics to admit how hard I try to fancy the “near future” when “traditional books” will benefit from the services of this start-up. As the author said, “I think it’s a pretty safe bet that our stories are only going to become more visual, shorter, and a lot more interactive”. But then literature they will be no longer.

  • Shawn

    Thanks for the comment, Marcelo. Do you think it's possible to create a more immersive experience that's still squarely focused on reading? If we forget about e-books for a second, the Internet has drastically changed the way we read and process information. The same information you might find in a book can also be found and consumed online. However, unlike a book, you can click around, comment, and share.

  • Marcelo Figueiredo

    First point: I’m doubtful about increasing the immersive experience of reading because this is something that happens in your mind, instead of in some object. It is surely possible to improve it in a way or another. You can pick up readable typefaces (there are even some presumably suitable for dyslexic readers), adjust brightness and contrast of the screen, and even limiting the amount of text in a line to make the eye movement shorter and easier (incredibly few people mind that). But I’m still skeptical on some wild promises. Second point: reading doesn’t need to be solitary. And here I’m forced to refer to a favorite start-up of mine. Readmill offers a sophisticated way of engaging in conversations related to books, where you can share and comment. Kobo has these features, too; but I like Readmill’s better. Amazon’s Kindle has something similar, you can publicly share your highlights, but it is far more restricted in what you can do. All those “social reading” features are something made viable by the internet —the largest book club anyone could dream of—, and I believe they’ll find more use as e-reading is adopted by readers. Third point: information is a concept that goes beyond the text (and language). Information can be conveyed through language, sound, image, video, and —why not?— interaction. Both the internet and the computing devices we carry along create opportunities for new ways of exchanging information. Don’t get me wrong: “motion books” may be a good idea, like all those magazines that bet on new and creative ways of presenting content on screens. What I can’t agree is that those “motion books” be seen in any way as an evolution of the old-fashioned novel. They don’t take the place of literature, as photographs didn’t take the place of painting. On Medafire’s website they talk a lot about “storytelling”. And storytelling may be done in literature, cinema, theatre, opera, etc. Even a ballet may tell a story. Nothing wrong with trying to tell them with motion and interaction, but the “traditional book” will certainly go on by its own way.

  • Shawn

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I really like your reference to the Internet being a huge book club.

    Books (in whatever form they're presented) likely aren't going to go away anytime soon. I'm curious about how the lines will continue to blur between print and digital. For example, Shopify recently created an e-book on dropshipping. Instead of just posting as a pdf or something for Kindle, they added it to their website. You could click around and navigate the content in much the same way you would scroll through a blog. They also created a print version as well. As I read the guide, I found it so much easier to digest than if I were reading from a Kindle. But then again I'm a visual learner--so for me, the idea of making books more immersive is really interesting.

  • Shawn

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I really like your reference to the Internet being a huge book club.

    Books (in whatever form they're presented) likely aren't going to go away anytime soon. I'm curious about how the lines will continue to blur between print and digital. For example, Shopify recently created an e-book on dropshipping. Instead of just posting as a pdf or something for Kindle, they added it to their website http://ecommerce.shopify.com/g.... You could click around and navigate the content in much the same way you would scroll through a blog. They also created a print version as well. As I read the guide, I found it so much easier to digest than if I were reading from a Kindle. But then again I'm a visual learner--so for me, the idea of making books more immersive is really interesting.