Storytelling in the mid-century

My daughter Mila, born on the second day of this year, will grow up in an era dominated by multi-touch tablets, with ever decreasing thickness and ever increasing capabilities. (Her adulthood likely will be spent with even more flexible devices for consuming information.) Eagerly I will introduce her to reading. Already she hears my voice babbling as I read aloud what she will one day read for herself. Her generation, however, is poised to encounter the stories of the world in manners that are as yet only partially known.

She will come of age in a time when writing is not simply textual (though the careful use of words will persist…must persist). The world of 2030, when Mila is in college, will view one form of writing as a composition elegantly mixing many elements, among which will be words, images, sound, and video. A critical aspect in the coming decades is that the careful use and mixture of those elements must exist.

What do we call these compositions?

Those are not the books we cherish today Those are not e-books. They most definitely are not enhanced e-books. Neither are they documentaries. Technically, the compositions will be contained in some type of app. Maybe they’re just websites. Ultimately, they’re simply stories: narratives for examining the themes that engage civilization, compositions through which we learn and share our experiences of the lives around us.

(And the twenty-first century form of storytelling is as much about the reader as it is about the author.)

A word loosely tossed around these days by media companies is content. Content is often defined by the container. Book necessitates text, perhaps joined by the occasional image. What about other containers? For instance, documentary films necessitate motion images joined with voice-over narration. With the iPad possibilities exist for a hybrid exhibiting capabilities not found in either print or film.

Feeding the reading space of 2030, through whatever magical hardware brand dominates the delivery of digital media, will be apps that are hybrids of books and documentaries.

If we think of the iPad, though, as supporting a new genre then we should step back to examine the whole experience of reading, even asking what is non-fiction? (For the sake of this discussion I leave fiction for another day.) Why do people read and spend time with non-fiction books? Ultimately, I suspect the answer revolves around learning. The desire to learn prompts us to read and, preferably, have an enjoyable experience while doing so. Similarly, that desire to learn in a satisfying manner drives us to view documentaries.

The challenge is in exploring how to leverage the tablet platform for storytelling. The iPad brings a new way of reading. Likewise, it carries forward a new way of writing.

While the publishing community scrambles for today’s solutions, the real burden is on all of us to ensure that tomorrow’s writers & editors understand the elements of style required for creating the publications that will dominate the mid-century. My daughter will be less than forty years of age in 2050. Aspects of the world will be unthinkably different then. Much will remain the same, but the way humans communicate through media will continue its long trajectory. Perhaps what we’re doing now with apps will someday appear as quaint as magic lanterns or the early years of cinema. Undoubtedly, the techniques of writing and composition in a tablet-based digital environment will evolve with time, eventually forming accepted practices that support different types of reading experiences.

By |July 5th, 2011|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |1 Comment

A Q&A about book design amid the changes in publishing

Katie Peek over at A Canary in the Data Mine: Explorations of Data Analysis and Information Display blog posted an interview with me on the topic of book design and the changing world of electronic publishing.

By |March 11th, 2010|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , , , , , |Comments Off on A Q&A about book design amid the changes in publishing

Designing for the iPad

The day after. This is a book design blog, so you’d expect me to write about iBooks, the dazzling ePub reader built into the iPad. But I’m not. (Well, I will a bit). And I’m not going to write about what features are lacking in iPad (first generation, after all) or if there’s even a market for this type of device: duh. And I’m not going to waste time debating the backlight. There are a lot more important things to do, such as figuring out how to design content for this new device. Notice: I said designing content, not designing e-books.

iBooks is a response to the market-driven phenomenon of people wanting to read hundreds of pages of text on a computer screen. Is that the best we can do, read text on a screen? Personally, I want to use an ultra-modern computing device for engaging with content in ways not possible merely with text. (Of course, I’m talking primarily about non-fiction here. I love literary fiction & the interplay of words, sentence after sentence, though I still prefer my novels in print. But that’s just a personal preference.)

And I’m not talking about enhanced e-books, which often mean no more than just some multimedia tacked onto the end. Adherents of e-books are constantly stressing the importance of breaking away from the concept of the printed page. Yet, the ePub reader on iPad uses a page concept & strongly reinforces the concept of the physical book (transplanted to the screen).

I’m interested in breaking away from the concept of the page & the physical book. But I’m not too interested in a lengthy stream of re-flowing text. The page, the physical book, & even the re-flowing text are all great in their own ways if you want is to read 80,000 words on a topic. But I seldom have that much time. But I am interested in learning. And don’t we read non-fiction because we want to learn?

Maybe I only need a stimulating 10,000 words arranged in even smaller, bite-sized chunks seasoned with imagery for obtaining an overview of a topic. A multi-touch screen allows me to interact with the content, furthering my retention of ideas. A playful, game-like component pulls me further into the narrative. (Remember, narratives don’t have to be linear or even textual.) I would buy such a product, a content app that started me along the journey of exploring an unfamiliar topic. I love to learn, I love to read. So what’s next: I would then purchase a more in-depth book on the topic (either in print or as an e-book).

Listen up publishers: you just sold me two separate products. Think about that.

How can digital media aid in learning about a topic in a visually engaging manner? That’s the challenge we should address in designing for the iPad. The iPad gets us a big step closer.

As I think about designing content for the iPad, I’m not thinking so much about ePub. I want to breakout of whatever constraints & restrictions imposed by the ePub rendering engine. The iPad provides a robust canvas. When I think of paid content on the iPad, I’m not just thinking e-books. I’m also thinking apps.

The app development environment for iPhone is superb and is the basis for the iPad SDK. There’s an NDA around the iPad SDK beta. So, no specifics here.

Here at sorodesign we are working to develop some apps for the iPhone & the iPad that revolve around content but are not at all what one would think of as e-books or even enhanced e-books. We’re experimenting. Designing for the iPhone & the iPad requires creativity. That’s exciting.

And what is required from all of us for devices like the iPhone, the iPad, & similar products from other vendors that will come along: new ways of writing, editing, designing, publishing, & reading.

By |January 28th, 2010|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |20 Comments

One of our clients & the Frankfurt Book Fair

The Frankfurt Book Fair is coming up next month and one our clients, Ellen Bryson, will have her debut novel promoted at the fair.

Ceci did the illustrations for the novel (and, yes, it’s adult literary fiction with illustrations). We’re also in the processing of building Ellen’s website. Her novel will be released by Henry Holt in the summer of 2010. I’m going to have more posts about the developing of Ellen’s author website, but for now you can look at the preview page at ellenbryson.com.

Publishers Weekly has a great list of books promoted by publishers and literary agencies at this year’s fair. Here’s the brief on Ellen Bryson’s novel:

On the adult fiction front, Foundry has the debut novel The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson (Holt, 2010); set in 1865 New York, the book follows the titular character—he performs as the “living skeleton” in P.T. Barnum’s American museum—whose life is changed after being hired by Barnum to be the showman’s personal detective.

By |September 29th, 2009|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , |Comments Off on One of our clients & the Frankfurt Book Fair

The future of book design

Book design will diverge down several paths and has a surprisingly healthy future.

1) E-books based on a reflow format (i.e., suitable for small devices) will be based on common style sheets and exhibit a fairly uniform appearance. There will be a set of small (in size) firms that customize and refine these style sheets. Publishers will mostly outsource the format conversion since the ever changing variety of devices requires continual reformating of material. There will be some firms that profit very well from providing this service.

2) E-books based on PDFs also will be very popular due to the variety of light-weight computing devices with large screens. (The whole PDF vs reflow format for e-books is misleading unless one assumes that small, palm-sized devices will completely replace all other forms of desktop, notebook, and tablet-sized computers.)

3) Some material traditionally only published in book format will shift to Web delivery and “book” design for this genre actually is Web design. Many challenges for publishers in this segment who have not yet figured out how to monetize Web sites. (If publishers have not figured that out in the last 15 years, will the next 15 years be much different?) Many opportunities for new publishing firms to emerge to fill the gap for producing and monetizing engaging content using digital media. Many opportunities for designers since elegant Web design is neither simple nor cheap.

4) Print-on-demand establishes a significant market operating in bookstores, libraries, big-box retail outlets, and direct shipping to consumers. All those books still need designing and the PDF byproduct can feed directly into pathway #2 above as well as #1 with conversion services offered in pathway #1.

5) Print book designers will still flourish as some publishers will realize that a niche audience is willing to pay a premium for a wonderfully designed book, heralding a surprising renaissance in book design. Also, print book designers can design PDF-based e-books with no problem since PDF is usually a byproduct in the print book design process.

By |December 22nd, 2008|Categories: Book Design|Tags: , , , , , |8 Comments

BOOK DESIGN in an E-BOOK WORLD

I’m convinced that e-books eventually will replace printed books as the world’s primary reading material.

And before you say it: just because you don’t want to cuddle up in bed with an e-book, don’t assume, don’t assert, that others share that attitude.

Wide acceptance of e-books largely depends upon functional reading devices but limited distribution of printed books is an even larger issue. Sure, print-on-demand offers a solution but what happens when the quality of e-books are better and more affordable and more accessible than books printed on demand?

I already live in a part of the world where 95% of the English-languages books I want to read are not easily available. That scenario, the lack of printed reading material, really adjusts your perspective about e-books. (Meanwhile, fortunately, I am surrounded by a wealth of Spanish-language books). But I still feel the necessity of an e-book reader. Unfortunately, international shipping to Argentina is not reliable and there’s a huge import tax on electronics. So, my e-book reader will have to wait until some future visit to North America.

What is the future of book design in an e-book world? Very healthy.

Book design, layout, and typography will continue to play the same role in producing e-books as in printed books. Indeed, one could argue that readability may be an even more important factor with e-books. New possibilities with layout and presentation also may be presented through e-book readers. Of course, there will be limitations and some books just will not be as presentable through e-book readers as in their printed counterparts. Essentially, book designers already produce every printed book as an e-book anyway. In all cases, the final production files delivered to the printer are digital files and almost always in PDF. So, there is still plenty need for book designers in an e-book world.

What about book cover design? Very healthy.

The cover image will continue to play an important marketing role in helping people select which e-books to read. Just as with printed books, e-books need some way of standing out in the crowd.

And what about printed books in an e-book world?

People will still want to buy books, but my thinking is that people will be more interested in spending money on specialized books, books not available digitally, books that offer an experience, books that involve a high degree of design.

So, we may be book designers but that doesn’t mean we’re traditionalists. Of course, in a sense, book design is not so much about the book but about the ways that text and images are conveyed to the reader.

By |January 17th, 2008|Categories: Book Design, e-book design, publishing|Tags: , , , |2 Comments

BLOG, E-BOOK, now what?

For almost three years I’ve been writing about the cultural heritage and social history of Buenos Aires, Argentina on my blog Buenos Aires, City of Faded Elegance. Since it’s a blog by an American living in a foreign country it tends to get grouped in the travel category. I do write a lot about how to experience travel on a more meaningful level than just a cursory visit to the sights that are in every guidebook. But in my blog I purposefully avoid most mentions of restaurants and hotels. I’ve always wanted to write much more than just a traveler’s account of a few days or even a few months in one locale.

Like all blogs my own now has an extensive archive. Whenever I come across a new blog I read the latest postings and, if I like those, I add the site to my news reader. I always intend to go back and browse the archived postings but I rarely do so. Figuring that a lot of visitors to my site also never make it too far into the archives, I decided to pull together a selection of postings from my archives and create a free e-book. It was a challenge to distill so much material down to 50 pages, which is the length I had in mind. I ended up with 57 pages.


Buenos Aires free e-book

So, I’ve taken my blog and made an e-book. What’s next?

In my blog’s archives I have enough text that could be converted to approximately 175 more pages. With some editing and arrangement there is certainly more than enough material to produce an insightful book on Buenos Aires. But no one wants to read a 225 page e-book. I certainly don’t (unless I have a nifty e-book reader) and am not intending to release a PDF like that (and definitely not for free).

There’s always the self-publishing route and a lot of our clients here at sorodesign take that approach. I know enough about self-publishing that it wouldn’t be difficult to produce some sales directly from blog.

I was just calculating the year-end stats of my blog for 2007 and it amounts to about 80,000 unique visitors a year coming to my blog on Buenos Aires. Argentina’s weak economy has resulted in a tourism boom so I’m always getting a lot of new readers to the blog seeking out things to do in Buenos Aires.

My inclination is to query literary agents and see what type of response I get. I’ll post updates on this blog about my own success or failure in going from blog to book.

BTW, Cecilia did the page layout for the e-book and she will be posting later about the actual layout.

By |December 8th, 2007|Categories: publishing|Tags: , |2 Comments

TRAVEL GUIDES by the chapter

If you travel a lot then you know the problem of carrying around guidebooks: they can be large and you often don’t use half the chapters in the book. A travel guide friend of mine actually recommends ripping out the pages that you don’t want from a guidebook in order to make it lighter, easier to carry around.

Lonely Planet is introducing downloadable chapters of its guidebooks. The price of each chapter varies but it seems to be around $2.50 or so. It reminds me of the TravelFish guides to southeast Asia that we wrote about last month.


lonely planet

So far, Lonely Planet only has chapters from its Latin American guidebooks available for download. This concept is particularly good for travelers on the road. In many countries it’s very difficult to find English-language travel books.

By |July 25th, 2007|Categories: e-book design, publishing|Tags: , |3 Comments

WHERE’S the FEED?

I was over at the Book Standard site, looking at their news entries, and decided that I wanted to subscribe to a feed of their news stories. On the main news page of Book Standard I looked around in vain for some indication of a news feed. Finally, when I clicked on one of the news items and got to the next page then I saw the RSS/XML indicator for the feed.

Okay, all is good, or so I thought.

Usually when you click on the RSS/XML label then you’re prompted to subscribe to the feed. News feeds generally start with the latest items, what the site is publishing today. I have over 400 feeds in my Bloglines and it’s my main way of keeping track of what’s happening on the net.

Yet, Book Standard doesn’t seem to understand the concept of feeds. At Book Standard when you click on the RSS/XML label you get a pop-up window that asks you which feed you want to subscribe to from VNU eMedia. Uh, I just wanted Book Standard, what the heck is VNU eMedia? (Actually, I know what it is but why do they assume everyone does?):

vnuemedia.jpg

Here you get the options for most VIEWED stories, most EMAILED stories, most PRINTED stories, and most SAVED stories. Hey, I just want the LATEST stories…just like every other feed on the net. And, really guys, why do people care about the most printed stories? That might be an interesting statistic for internal use but you really think it needs a feed?

Why make it complicated?

And since I’m picking on the Book Standard, why did the Book Standard shut down Book Trailerpark?

I just worry about a publishing conglomerate that doesn’t seem to understand online publishing.

By |July 4th, 2007|Categories: publishing|Tags: |Comments Off on WHERE’S the FEED?