Last week I was stumbling around with a notion about how I imagined the future of books would look more like apps than downloadable versions of their paper cousins. I was envisioning an interactive text, something that would allow readers to expand the depth of their reading experience, something that would simply be the digital flipping of pages.
Then my wife discovered this. Don’t read any further until you take a look. Seriously. Scroll down to the sample pages, read the description of what’s included.
Are you back? That is what I was thinking about, am thinking about.
Yes, okay, it’s nonfiction, it’s the civil war, there’s plenty of material to work with. And this is a great way to deal with history, make it alive for the reader. Do this with anything, do this with art history or rock and roll or the study of infectious diseases. Daily uploads? Why can’t this be done for text materials for classrooms, newly loaded pages every weekday for 180 days, with the ability to take notes in text that you can export to documents.
Notice the price? $8 for two YEARS worth of updates. Show me a textbook, or any print book, that can offer as much for that asking price. More importantly, show me a newspaper that can do this. I’ll grant you, there are expenses involved in newspapers and textbooks that might mess with the price point, but if newspaper apps could promise this they’d make it up in volume.
And now, why can’t fiction do this?
Already we’ve seen books with links to web content (the Skeleton Creek series) but these feel a little more like playful treasure hunts that are a marriage of convenience at best. The videos require a password from the text, and illuminate the mystery within the story, but their integration leaves much to be desired.
The thing about this is that it totally opens up the possibility for what a writer can do with a story. Multiple and parallel storylines can be accessed, points of view shifted the same way we can view multiple camera angles in videos. The author would still have total control over what is revealed, and when, and how, so it isn’t simply a question of tossing in the kitchen sink and letting the reader find their way.
It also doesn’t have to be so complicated. Dickens wrote many of what we consider classics in serialized newspaper formats. Others did as well (including Stephen King a few years back though I’m unsure of the success). Why couldn’t a book app upload a new chapter once a week to a reader to the same effect?
If tablets are going to start hitting the market in 2012 with a child audience and a $75 price tag in mind, then the first real jumps in what can be done with an electronic book are going to take place with children and young adults. People are still going to have to write quality books, but the shapes those books will and how their content will be displayed, that’s a question for the future.