Friday, November 28, 2008

eBooks and Digital Editions

Yesterday I bought myself Stanza and Classics from the iPhone ApStore. Stanza was free, gives me free access to a lot of books and samples, and the Classics collection cost me 99c. So it wasn't an expensive day. They both work fine. I will read some of The Time Machine in the Stanza format, and some of Paradise Lost with the mildly annoying page-flip in the Classics reader. Since I havent read too much H G Wells or Milton in book form for a good many years, the iPhone can claim some credit for educating me -- at last! But if I do enjoy the Milton, I will go to my old but little-read Oxford edition, inherited from grandmother.

These reading systems both come from small innovative companies with very few employees (Classics may have only two). They are working ingeniously within the Apple eco-system. For sure, they must be giving the product managers of Amazon's Kindle and the Sony eReader a headache. Apple have an installed base that the speacialist hardware ebook solutions can merely dream about and the Stanza distribution system looks as though it will be adopted by some big publishers. But these are not web-based reading systems. They are fine for reading the text but they are using the internet to communicate literary resources. The pages are not web pages. In my terminology they are ebook systems not digital edition platforms (with a digital edition: pagination and layout is conserved).

All the Exact Editions publications already work on the iPhone, all our pages are web pages, so its not in our plans to develop a comparable solution for fungible text. We think (and more important Google Book Search thinks) that pages and page lay-out matters. This 'conservative' or 'post modernist', 'hyper-referential' preference comes with predilections for colour, illustrations, complex layout, paginated references and citations. All the gorgeous apparatus of print that is lost when books, magazines and newspapers are boiled down to a simple ASCII/XML stream. Staying with web pages and web delivery is our mantra. We do get support questions asking whether we can do Kindle editions and I expect that we will now get questions asking us if can sell subscriptions for the Stanza platform. Easy answer in this case: Stanza no, but any of our subscriptions will work on the iPhone, on the Wii, and I am confident although I have not yet verified it on Android devices.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Hi Adam,

These are not web-based reading systems? Are you sure?

The fact that you are looking at this topic is commendable and your position is bold -- and you seem acutely aware of how the position may look from the outside :) -- but is the nature of the web not changing under your feet?

In just the past 5 years the read web has made way for the read/write web. In turn will that not make way for a new kind of web where the webpage loses its primacy?

It sounds to me like you are putting the importance of the text before the importance of the user experience reading the text.

I understand that you can replicate the desktop experience on a mobile phone, but from a reader's perspective that isn't what I want. I want an iphone interface AND a laptop interface in the same way I want my audio books to come bundled with print editions.

I understand there is an opportunity cost chasing every format this way and that, but I thought I would speak up and mention the reader experience for digital editions is terrible. Go with the inherent advantages of the platform/medium -- don't fight against it.

thanks for your time.