Books as a service

I am continuing to build on a summary of Baldur Bjarnason's call to "make eBooks worth it". Last week, I looked at what Bjarnason calls a "wealth of new tools for reading and writing that are impossible in print." In this post, I'd like to consider what Bjarnason describes as "the ability to enable new modes of learning and skills development".

In his original post, Bjarnason added "just adding interactive quizzes is a massive bankruptcy of imagination". This is an important reminder for publishers whose experience is shaped in two dimensions.

I've consulted with a number of publishers whose physical products are layered with a range of different types of content. Information, assessments, supplemental lessons and clarifying questions are all confined to a two-dimensional page or spread.

Often enough, the publishers I work with have struggled to translate the richness of a print product into a digital environment. It's impossible to present high-density (300 dpi) content in a 72 dpi digital environment, but the advent of higher-resolution displays shouldn't be taken as an opportunity to replicate what we've long had in print.

The reason is simple: print products are layered and complicated largely because they are limited to two dimensions. A digital version of a reading workbook (for example) doesn't have to offer assessment questions or supplemental exercises on the same plane as core text. There are other ways to conceive and present that content.

Moreover, assessments can evolve to take context into account. A faster reader might be served a more challenging set of questions. A student who scored well on a given assessment might be referred to more challenging reading assignments for future classes. Students who struggle with an assignment could be grouped and regrouped according to need.

All of these ideas (and the many more that are percolating around us) demand a reconsideration of the book as product. The measures of success are no longer a function of making the best physical product available. Reimagining the book as a service, at least in areas where learning and skills development are at stake, is an important next step for publishers to take.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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