The Future of books…

December 8th, 2006 by Hugh

Here’s a small anecdote from the world of book publishing that I hope wll give encouragement to Exbiblio.

Earlier this week, I attended an event in London held by Puffin, the children’s book publisher, owned by Penguin. I was chatting to one of their senior managers who told me that when her seven-year-old son finished reading a book, he always went straight to his computer to see if there was any web-related material. She admitted that publishing companies were not always the first to embrace new technology, but in the case of children’s books, they had to be at the forefront, because that was what the audience expected. Exbiblio currently sees college students as a key market for its technology to link the paper world to digital… perhaps that even that group is too old? Anyway, I take this as a sign that the world is changing, and it’s changing in the right direction for Exbiblio.

Giving Away eBooks

December 7th, 2006 by Hugh

One of the big problems for Exbiblio is that book publishers don’t want to give their content away on the web. This makes it hard to link an in-copyright paper text to its digital equivalent. Now here’s some encouraging news (discovered via Scoble). Joe Wikert of Wily books says that giving away content on the net helps build an audience. In fact, it does no harm to sales, and probably helps them.

Online Offline Reading

October 27th, 2006 by Hugh

Exbiblio aims to add a digital dimension to print. As you read a book with your oPen scanner in your hand, you will be able to capture lines of text that you want to remember. Later on, these will be loaded onto your computer where you can do digital things with them – like emailing or blogging them. Perhaps one day people will embed links into books so that you can go to an audio-video experience on the net.

But does this take some of the pleasure out of reading? A much discussed blog post by Nostrich describes the difference between the experience of reading a book and reading something online:

Traditionally, reading a book – or any printed word, for that matter – is a rather involved process. As you read, you are listening to the words in your mind. The book remains static in your hands; on your lap; on the desk; forcing you to move your eyes to each consecutive word. Knowing the arduous process the book has been through – editing, proof-reading, typesetting, etc. – instills a sense of trust in the words before you; someone put a hell of a lot of work into making this book, just for you. The cost of books also instills pride of ownership.

But now, with the popularity increase of digital media, all this goes out the window. I don’t own the words I read online, I’m merely a guest; it’s impersonal. When reading words published online, my eyes remain static as each line scrolls past my eyes. Online publications are ephemeral.

It would be a shame if the experience of reading a book became filled up with digital clutter of the ephemeral kind. In many ways reading a book in an antidote to our addiction to the always-on Internet. It’s a much calmer mental experience.

Exbiblio would argue that the oPen is mainly an off-line tool that only connects later on to the digital world. But future generations of portable scanners might well be integrated into mobile phones. There’s already a mouse that will read colored bar codes.

It’s pretty much inevitable that the habits we pick up while reading online will start to invade traditional literature. It’s happening already and language is constantly evolving. Over here in Europe we are ahead of America as we send SMS text messages back and forth many times a day with phrases like “C U 2morrow”, a trend which hasn’t caught on quite so much in the States. Many Britains under 30 do not use capital letters in emails. It will be very hard for even the most traditional authors to ignore the digital dynamics of language.

Worldchanging Book Party

October 13th, 2006 by Team Member

by Jeremy Faludi

In addition to contracting for Exbiblio as their green design consultant, I consult for other companies and write for, a green design / technology / policy journal. Worldchanging’s mission is to find and share tools, models and ideas which offer solutions to the planet’s biggest problems. We’ve won multiple awards and have hundreds of thousands of readers around the world, and our book–Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century–brings together the best, most hopeful and most effective ideas we’ve found so far. I was just one of many authors who contributed; the subjects include everything from green product design to megacities to international development, from energy to water to culture and politics, from wood stoves to biotech and nanotech.

The Seattle book release party will be October 28, 7:30pm, at Town Hall, $5 at the door. Bruce Sterling and our executive editor, Alex Steffen, will be on stage discussing the future of sustainability; then a reception and after-party will follow. It’ll be a lot of fun, if you like smart green futurists and such, so come check it out!

Feel free to forward this invitation widely. If you don’t live in Seattle, come to our book parties in other cities, such as Portland, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, etc. (Details here.)

Hope to see you there!

Jeremy Faludi
design, consulting

Amazon Unbox

September 8th, 2006 by Hugh

I mentioned recently that Amazon might be going into the video download business. Now it’s made its move with a service called Amazon Unbox. Dave Taylor does a good walk-through of the service.

Amazon is becoming the hub for both digital and paper media, and as Robert Scoble mentions, it is pushing out innovations as fast as Google does. If anyone is in a strong position to make links across the divide between paper and digital, it’s Seattle’s biggest books store.

The TouchBook

September 5th, 2006 by Hugh

Jason Barkeloo, president of Somatic Digital, has a vision that is strikingly close to Exbiblio’s. He concludes a recent post for the AlwaysOn community site saying:

I think the great step forward will be clipping the printed page to a device that will enable the print to become the navigation portal to the digital world…

And it’s more than a just a nice idea. Somatic already has its own “device” to hand: the TouchBook.

The TouchBook™ platform, through the use of Touch User Interface (TUI) technology, enables a reader to press the pictures and words on the regular printed ink and paper page and retrieve digital content from an appliance. This technology, in essence, turns the printed material into a remote control to digital content.

You will find more detail in the PDF brochure. but I think the concept is demonstrated most clearly in this short video of seven-year-old Tommy using a TouchBook. He presses an icon in his book, and a song plays on his laptop.

Just to remind readers – I’m an outside blogger and am not involved in developing Exbiblio’s products – and so I would be fascinated to find out what the Exbiblio team makes of the TouchBook. It would also be great to hear what Jason Barkeloo makes of Exbiblio’s approach to bridging the divide between paper and the digital world.

Audio books with any actor

September 1st, 2006 by Hugh

Sony have come up with an idea for a talking book, without the need for an actor to go to the wearisome trouble of reading the whole text out aloud. The New Scientist Invention blog reports that the giant electronics to media company has filed a patent for a new type of audio book.

An actor has to record a series of words and phrases containing every type of sound in the language. The system would also note the actor’s pitch, tone, and rhythm of voice. In theory, a customer could match any book in the Library to the voice of any actor in the system. It might even be possible to revive the voices of dead actors, using archive recordings. Orson Wells reading Winnie the Pooh?

I have to say, I spend quite a bit of my time producing an actress reading audio stories for children. I know how much time she spends thinking about how to bring out the meaning. It’s a performance, just as much as if she were taking part in a stage play.

How about this for a suggestion? Perhaps Sony should add a moving hologram of the actor to its invention. Then users could choose costumes and scenes and put the actor inside any play or film ever written. I’m not entirely kidding. I have a feeling this might happen one day – perhaps in a virtual life site such as Second Life. Moving avatars of celebrities are already becoming popular.

Another observation: every few days there seems to be a news story about the future of the book. There clearly are a lot of people thinking about bringing traditional books and the digital world closer together.

Print Google Books

August 30th, 2006 by Hugh

Publishers arn’t going to like this: Google now lets internet users download and print classic books for free. It’s going further than Project Gutenberg that has for some time been offering free texts. Google Books offers users attractively formatted copies from the original imprint. To find printable books, use the “Full view books” option in the search. They come in PDF format.

A Google Books search gives users a number of options including “search inside”, “buy this book”, “find this book in a library”, “search for reviews”, “search for related web pages”. Now it has added a “download” button to some books such as Bibliomania.

University libraries at Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan and the University of California, are involved in the Google Books project. Publishers, however, are suing Google. Google’s defence is that although the public can search copyrighted texts online, they won’t be able to download and print them.

It’s not hard to imagine what Penguin Classics thinks about Google’s plans, but it would seem that there is not much the company could do to stop Google offering out-of-copyright works to the public. I can imagine calls coming soon from publishers to extend the length of the copyright term once again. This has already happened once after pressure from Disney to keep Micky Mouse under tabs. In most countries copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the author.

Carter Beats the Devil – Quote

August 16th, 2006 by Adam

I’m currently reading “Carter Beats the Devil” by Glen David Gold which I enjoy and recommend (this is my second time reading it). Here is a quote I like. For me, it captures the romance of creativity:

“We know how ninety-nine percent of the universe works,” he told Carter shortly after they met, “and that’s the clockworks, that’s what we build with. But the other one percent makes the clockworks wind down. That’s inertia. No one knows how that works, but it does. It’s that one percent mystery that’s that way of our maker. Put everything together, energy and inertia, the explicable and the inexplicable, and that’s how you and I make our living.”

“Carter Beats the Devil” (Glen Gold)

Publisher to mesh paper with digital

August 5th, 2006 by Hugh

Publishing giant HarperCollins has announced a deal with iAmplify to offer audio and video content along side books. It will provide free audio interviews as well as paid-for content that adds a new dimension to the words on the printed page. I quote from the press release:

“We are moving towards a new distribution model where content is available to consumers on demand,” Hidary added. “iAmplify provides digital content in any format and on any device – not only to iPods, but also to laptops and cell phones – that consumers can access digitally anytime, anywhere.”

Now imagine just how much more powerful this development would be if readers could swipe a hyperlink in the paper book and be whisked to a multi-media digital experience – for that is exactly the Exbiblio vision.

At the same time, HarperCollins is launching a “browse inside” feature for a range of titles on its website. It’s already including audio extracts (example from Isabel Allende’s Zorro). The browse feature, which aims to give online book-buyers a similar experience to thumbing volumes in an bookshop, was pioneered by Amazon, and emulated more recently by Google Books. It does not quite fulfill the Exbiblio vision of a digital text that a reader can place in a “Life Library”, but it is a significant move by a book publisher in that direction.

Meanwhile the New York Times reports that publishers are using video services such as YouTube to promote books. Companies like Expanded Books will make video promotions for around $4000. Top blog Gawker calls a video trailer for your book, “The hottest new marketing trend.”

Jeff Jarvis, one of the most widely read bloggers, talks of “exploding books” and says “authors are breaking free of paper.” Jarvis is perhaps a little bit too hasty to write the old-fashioned book off just yet (see Penguin’s best selling performance). Another way of looking at this is to say that paper is not “dead wood”, but is finding a new lease of life by becoming integrated with the digital world.