In August, Craig Mod posted “Platforming books”, an extensive explanation of the thinking behind the creation of a digital edition of Art Space Tokyo, a crowd-funded book that had previously been published in physical form.
His post starts with a reflection of how much digital publishing has changed since he first sought funding for the project, and it ends with a guess about how much more might change in the next two years. As he notes at the outset:
“And so, in the last two years a simple, strong truth has emerged: The future of books is built upon networked platforms, not islands. More than any surface advancement — interface, navigational, typographic, or similar — platforms define how we read going forward. Platforms shape systems — those of production, consumption, distribution — and all critical changes happening in digital books and publishing happen within systems. Post-artifact books and publishing is not just about text on screens.”
Mod divides platforms into “two distinct ecosystems: open (the web) and closed (iBooks, Kindle and other e-readers).” The open, web-based version of Art Space Tokyo provides both access and a path for discovery.
As he has said in other venues, “The current generation of readers (human, not electronic) have formed expectations about sharing text, and if you obstruct their ability to share — to touch — digital text, then your content is as good as non-existent.” But the project also embraces the features and distribution strength of other, closed systems (presented here verbatim):
- They’re true, self-contained reading platforms.
- As such, they’re built specifically for selling & consuming book-like content.
- They’re based on real text: no images-as-text nonsense.
- Interaction is standardized between all of their books. Readers don’t need to re learn how to read. Up-down-left-right? Nope: Just. Keep. Swiping.
- The Kindle has hooks into social networks allowing readers to effortlessly share highlights and notes.
Mod also describes the idiosyncratic approach they took to turn an InDesign file into workable EPUB and .mobi files. While it’s not an elegant process, improvements are likely:
"A not-so-long time ago there were no digital books. There were no Kindles or iPads. There were self-contained objects. Objects unnetworked. The only difference now is that they're touching, they're next to one another. The content is the same. But that small act of connection brings with it a potential sea change, change we'll explore as we continue to platform books."
Earlier this week, Baldur Bjarnason posted a provocative piece, “eBook publishing systems are a joke”. I need some more time to think about his ideas, but it is interesting to read about the data that he thinks publishers lose when they use eBook platforms:
- Conversion rates
- Upselling rates
- Search keywords
I think Mod and Bjarnason might find they share some common ground, as these six sets of data reflect the potential value to publishers of direct interaction on the web. Some of what Mod describes in supporting the open web (particularly access, discovery and trial) is captured in Bjarnason’s list.
In the end, Mod leveraged EPUB and .mobi to put Art Space Tokyo on various platforms not because the platforms are ideal, but because they are currently available and serve markets no single publisher can yet reach. There may (soon) come a time when better options are available, but until then, there’s the promise of a market. It’s worthwhile asking if that helps us or blinds us.
An additional note: While attending and participating in the Frankfurt Book Fair next week, I am part of a panel discussing "networked publishing" at an event sponsored by the Book Fair and Helmut von Berg. The panel takes place on Friday, October 12 at noon in Hall 4, Stand A 1320. Better yet: it's free. Visitors need only a book fair ticket for admission.