Building a Better eBook

I’ve noticed an interesting trend in recent years; when old media (tv, publishers) try to translate their wares into new media formats (smartphones, tablets) they often fail miserably because they translate the formats too literally. That is they try to make a digital newspaper look and behave like a paper newspaper, and so on, without considering the fundamental differences between the way you interact with both mediums.

Paper, book and iPad

In addition to this, they often fail to take advantage of the additional possibilities these devices bring. An iPad can do so much more than just display text, pictures and videos since it has a constant connection to the internet with the wealth of information and social connections that it brings. To date, the way in which I’ve seen the technology harnessed is simplistic at best (Wired, Project) and a hindrance at worst (The Daily).

While there have already been lots of discussions about the shortcomings of current implementations I’d like to focus on eBooks in particular which I feel are the worst offenders and what I’d like to see in future eBook readers:

  1. Better layout and typography – some eBook readers are better at this than others but there are still clear issues with the display across different devices with various screen resolutions. I don’t want to see scanned copies of type headings or other elements which should be vectorized.
  2. Unlimited lending – you should be able to share books of your own for unlimited periods with one person at a time. While someone else has your book you obviously can’t read it but can recall it at any time (ala Lendle but built-in).
  3. Collaborative reading – you should be able to share your reading list, progress, and notes with friends who might be reading the same thing. This would be especially helpful for students or book groups.
  4. Copying & sharing – you should be able to copy paragraphs of text for the purpose of quoting or sharing a link to a particular place in a book on Twitter / Facebook etc. This provides another way to drive sales also.
  5. Interlinked information – you should be able to select a character name, place, or term you’re interested in and it will present you with background information, similar to a normal hyperlink but semantically generated.
  6. Portability – if you buy a book in one eBook store you should be able to transfer and read it on any device without being limited or locked to a particular provider. If I buy a book it should be mine to do with as I please in so far as I don’t distribute copies to others (like an MP3).
  7. Automatic revisions – when a new edition of a book you own is released it should automatically get updated in your library similar to when you update an app to a new version. Some publishers may want to charge for this which is fine as long as it’s fairly priced (see next point).
  8. Fair pricing – at the very minimum an eBook should never be more expensive than its paper counterpart, and considering the savings in terms of manufacturing it would be good to see modest discounts. As the Apple AppStore has shown when you lower the price people are more likely to make impulse buys and less likely to pirate.
  9. Paper trade-in (bonus point) – it would be super cool if a company allowed you to trade in / recycle your old paper books for eBook replacements or discounts [hat tip @WildPixels].

eBook readers like Kindle, iBooks, and the like have been making advances in this direction but they’re moving at a tortuously slow pace. It would be great to see a startup or a company such as iA Japan, which seem to get it, tackle this space and help push the industry forward to a position where it can once again thrive.

David avatar

4 responses

  1. These are great points, and publishers would be in a better position business-wise if they adopted them.

    1. Thanks Justin – I think a lot of this is going to come down to how much freedom the publishers are willing to give the content distributers – another case of an old industry stuck hopelessly in the past.

  2. Hi David
    Have you taken a look at Inkling? They produce interactive textbooks and have a really nice format.

  3. Designing Unique Products « Design The Future

    […] mining for five items of interest, I found an article on the blog Randomwire, Building a Better eBook, which criticised new technologies such as the eBook, for not exploiting the opportunities provided […]


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *