Archive for the ‘e-books’ category

When is an e-book not a book?

16 November 2011

I read The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore today and I was gobsmacked. The e-book is filled with glorious pictures, marvellous animations and engaging interactivity.

Screenshot

Of course, this isn’t the only title that takes advantage of its medium. For example, Rob Brydon has added audio and video components to his autobiography Small Man in a Book, while the textbooks on the Inkling app include animations, quizzes and social study tools.

Inkling on iPadThe marketing copy for The Fantastic Flying Books calls it “an interactive narrative experience” that “blurs the line between picture books and animated film”.

Inkling “turns paper-based textbooks into engaging, interactive learning experiences while staying compatible with the print book for classroom use”.

All this got me thinking: where do we draw the line?

When is an e-book not a book…?

The definition of a book

To me, a “book” is a collection of written words that together form a story. The text activates the mind and fires the imagination. The process is often assisted by illustrations.

Of course, the definition of a book can no longer be limited to sheets of paper bound together. The relentless march of technology has ushered the concept into an electronic format. Arguably, the introduction of multimedia elements is a continuation of that evolution.

At what point, however, does the nature of a book transform so much that it becomes something else?

Semantics, semantics

If we replace text with an image, we call it a picture.

If we replace it with illustrated motion, we call it an animation.

If we replace it with a recording, we call it audio or video.

If we combine all of the above, do we not call it an online course…?

When you think about it, a media rich e-book is what a pedagogically-sound online course ought to be:

Rose• engaging
• interactive
• learner centered
• logically structured
• founded on storytelling

Sure, it’s linear, but so are many online courses! In fact, authoring tools like Lectora leverage the metaphor of a book – with terms like “pages” and “chapters” – to arrange the content. (Besides, I don’t think linearity is necessarily a bad thing, so long as the learner is empowered to navigate as they please.)

But it may just be semantics after all. In this digital age, when convergence is inevitable, perhaps labels become inconsequential.

As Shakespeare’s Juliet observed, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

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The end of publishing as we know it

10 April 2010

In my previous article, I pondered how we are – finally! – entering the age of the e-book.

Already we are seeing an acceleration in the sales of e-books, which I expect will correlate with a resurgence of reading as an informal learning activity.

But I suggest that another, less obvious, effect of the e-book phenomenon will be a resurgence of storytelling as an informal teaching activity.

A lost art

Storytelling is as old as language itself.

Thirty thousand years ago, the Australian Aboriginals used Dreamtime legends to share and retain knowledge from generation to generation.

Stories such as The Special Platypus and The Little Flying Fox taught their audiences the virtues of modesty, identity and tolerance.

Western culture also has a rich storytelling history. For example, fairy tales such as Hansel & Gretel and The Ugly Duckling taught their audiences the virtues of love, dignity and respect.

But somewhere along the journey we lost our way.

What happened to the storytelling tradition of my culture?

Sure, we still tell stories in the form of books and movies – in fact we’re inundated with them – but I’m not alone in feeling that the big publishing houses and film studios of the world have hijacked the art of storytelling for the sake of pure entertainment.

Cash is the modern religion, and formula sells.

Light at the end of the tunnel

As e-books become more accessible, the act of reading will inevitably become more popular. Schlock will still be on the menu, but so will be enlightening tales with authentic messages.

For example, stories like Oh, the Places You’ll Go! will eventually join the other Suessical classics online and find a whole new generation of bookworms to inspire.

But you don’t have to be a famous author to get published online. Gone are the days of struggling writers submitting their work to arrogant publishers, only to receive knock back after knock back. (And don’t get me started on literary agents!)

These days anyone can publish their own story – easily.

Insert plug here

I decided to put my money where my brain was.

Ryan the LionIn the tradition of Aboriginal legends and European fairy tales, Ryan the Lion is a children’s story that explores themes of identity, tolerance, and self approbation.

Ryan is a lion cub who acts like the other animals in the jungle because he thinks they are cooler than he is. In doing so, however, he attracts their ridicule.

As Ryan grows up, his mane gets longer and his roar develops. Soon he attracts admiration, and he feels pride in being himself.

The DIY revolution

Ryan was ridiculously easy to publish.

There is a plethora of self-publishing services out there, but I decided to go with Digital Text Platform for several reasons:

Amazon.com•  I trust Amazon,
•  Kindle has sold in the millions,
•  My e-book is automatically stocked in the Kindle Store,
•  I can create hardcopies via DTP’s sister service, CreateSpace,
•  My commission percentage is healthy, and
CreateSpace•  I retain control over my work (to update it,
    to set its pricing etc).

Oh, and it’s effectively free!

Smashwords

I have since published Ryan the Lion via Smashwords too for similar reasons, but principally because of their distribution deal with Apple.

Macmillan’s stoush with Amazon was a walk in the park

The moral of this blog post is: I’m happy because I’m empowered to tell my story, and my target audience is happy because they can access my content at the press of a button.

The only ones who aren’t happy are the big publishing houses. Just wait until they realise the world’s storytellers don’t need them any more.

The age of the e-book

4 April 2010

For about a decade, people from all corners of the globe have been saying “We are now entering the age of the e-book”.

Whenever I heard someone say that, I couldn’t shake off the analogy of the real estate agent saying “Now is a great time to buy”.

It just sounded empty.

Something in my gut told me that it simply wasn’t true. And you know what? Year after year, e-books never took off, despite all the exciting forecasts and fanfare.

However… is the tide finally turning?

The new players

A myriad of reasons have held e-books back from mass popularity over the years.

Cottesloe BeachThe most obvious one is that lots of people (and I’m one of them) prefer reading real paper books.

You can pack them easily, you can read them on the beach, you can scribble notes in them, you can knock them around, you can lend them to your friends, they don’t need recharging, and you never get radiation-induced eye strain.

But another big reason has been the lack of suitable reading devices. Sure, you can read e-books on your laptop or on your smartphone, but it’s not a lot of fun.

Enter the Kindle and the iPad. The former is a purpose-built e-book reader, and I would argue that the latter is too.

The Kindle and the iPad.

OK, so a couple of cool e-book reading devices are finally on the market. Does that in itself foretell a revolution in e-book readership?

No it doesn’t, but this does:

Amazon and Apple have sold millions of Kindles and iPads.

Not hundreds of thousands. Millions.

With so many people owning an e-book reading device, it’s only natural that they would want to read e-books.

And when they do, they might realise that although they still prefer paper books, e-books are actually quite handy.

Reading eBook on MRT