In our digital age the book is no longer locked in black and white ink on paper. Tanya Weaver is caught between her love of books and the current onslaught of eBooks which have the power to change the reading experience
I love books. I love being immersed in a story. I love folding the page corners back and seeing how far I’ve progressed. I love finishing a book and reflecting on the journey I’ve been on. I love sharing books with friends and having them returned with creased spines and dog-eared pages.
So, when I was on an eleven hour flight recently, feeling a bit fed up with my book, I looked across the aisle and saw a lady completely engrossed in her Amazon Kindle eRreader. It looked light, easy to hold in one hand, no glare was being emitted and I could see how simple it was to ‘turn’ the pages. I have always dismissed the rise of digital books because I’m too attached to the paper ones. The thought of technology, which has crept into just about every other aspect of my life, now threatening to get between me and the books I love, was just inconceivable.
But I obviously can’t hide away from it for much longer; it’s clear that the future of the book is digital. According to the Association of American Publishers, eBook sales almost doubled over 2010 and now make up nine per cent of total consumer book sales.
Although Kindle was the forerunner in this field, other tablet computers are catching up including the Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble Nook and, of course, the iPad. In fact, at the iPad 2 launch at the beginning of March Steve Jobs announced that more than 100 million eBooks had been downloaded to the iBook app in less than a year.
But what if these tablets or eReaders could offer more than just black and white ink on a screen? What if they could include notes or links to additional information and access to online reading groups? If the experience of reading a book could be more interactive and social then I think that could potentially be quite interesting.
In fact, this is something that design agency IDEO has been exploring. In September 2010 it released a short film called the ‘Future of the Book’ and introduced three eBook concepts – Nelson, Coupland and Alice. Nelson demonstrates the multiple layers of information that can surround a single book. For instance, there are tools providing various perspectives, references, current conversations and debates. I can certainly see how this concept could work for design books providing a really valuable, interactive way of gaining knowledge about a subject.
For example, if the recently launched ‘The Manufacturing Guides: Product and Furniture Design’ by Rob Thompson was available in this format readers could join discussion groups about the manufacturing processes highlighted in the book, easily link to the websites of the companies mentioned, perhaps even watch video clips of the processes in action and interviews with designers who have used them.
On the other hand, Coupland is not so much a reading tool as a way of keeping up to date with the latest ‘must reads’ in your professional field. So, for instance, a designer or engineer could share reading lists (whether it be novels or even work-related service manuals) and have online discussions about books with colleagues. This sort of concept could even be used to facilitate crowdsourced design.
Alice is a concept that enables the reader to actually participate in the storytelling process. As you are reading the story you can add to the narrative, talk to characters and find keys to unlock plot twists. Albeit this is more like a video game than a traditional book, it is an interesting idea and could enhance the story for the reader.
There is no doubt that these are exciting concepts that offer new and different ways of interacting with written content. As the IDEO interaction designer who worked on these concepts, says “We have to recognise that there is a change in the way that people are consuming media today. It’s not that we are consuming less, it’s just different… There is a definite place for lean back, curl up with a book experience but also a place for this new reading experience.” And I think that’s it – it could even mean that more people will access, buy and read books.
Now, that can’t be a bad thing.
Tanya Weaver curls up with a digital classic