I would like to introduce my guest blogger this week and it is A J Cosmo!
Settling the Great eBook Vs. Print Debate
by A.J. Cosmo
They're going to revolutionize the world. Libraries will go extinct. Bookstores will be no more. A new age of reading, powered by the consumer and brilliant innovation, is at hand. This is the dawning of a new literary world order!
Or something like that.
When Amazon recently sent out emails to authors enrolled in the KDP select program to ask for help in their Hatchet publishing dispute, they compared the invention of the printing press to the creation of the eReader, saying that both machines liberated information and threatened subversive monopolies. It was a dramatic statement to say the least and showed how the mighty Internet retailer viewed its Kindle product line.
At a recent SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, the president of Penguin Books repeatedly emphasized that eBooks were simply another distribution channel. He sighted the explosive sales of young adult novels as proof. Anonymous posters on Reddit writing and reading forums have repeatedly declared that Kindles are nothing more than brown paper bag covers allowing older women to read books that would be considered too immature for their reading level.
I'm here to say that almost everyone has it wrong.
Kindles, and their eReader brothers, are not a revolution on the scale of the printing press. They are not the killing blows of traditional publishing. They are not masks for embarrassed readers nor are they simply a new distribution channel for repurposed content.
They are their own format. Period.
EReaders are to books as cellphones are to landline phones. Both were originally created with the same intention, a digital solution to an analog problem. However, just as the smart phone has evolved to do so much more than simply make a voice call, so too will eReaders soon offer experiences and opportunities for storytelling that simply cannot be done in print. To continue with the analogy, I believe that we're currently in the clamshell era of eReaders: simple, functional, and with a great potential for more. We've yet to see an eReader as revolutionary to reading as the iPhone was to telephones. Yet, I don’t think that moment is far off.
In fact we may already have that advanced eReader in our hands, it's just that the content that exploits the medium has yet to be created. So far authors and content creators have been stuck simply translating the Word document to HTML and making sure it looks like a digital version of the printed word. Createspace, Smashwords, Lulu, Amazon, have all been culpable in providing straightforward tools that translate the same content to multiple mediums with little to no variance. Simply cutting and pasting content though neglects the huge amount of tools available on eReaders to enhance the content.
Epub3, the newest format for eBooks, contains support for advanced CSS, transparencies, imbedded video, imbedded sound, activated sound, and even some limited interactivity. Authors can now animate text, say making it rain letters when describing a hurricane, on any page that they wish. They can make a knocking sound when a reader touches a door or music play when the spooky chapter starts. Certain Kindle titles already offer an Audible read along integration, but this can be further enhanced with music and sound effects.
Adobe Digital Press, a new Creative Cloud offering that interfaces with Adobe InDesign, is capable of directly porting interactive layouts to both ePub3 and Mobi formats. In my own limited testing, we've been able to create page turns that are both vertical and horizontal. We've imbedded background sounds for environments that trigger when the page turns. We've put in play buttons so readers can hear what the monster they're looking at sounds like. We've added animations that trigger on page turns and also on touch. So far it's like working with a whole new medium; like something between a book and a film.
That's just the surface, too! Books can now be interactive in a narrative sense. Imagine a choose your own adventure book on steroids. One where the choices don’t actually just end in a forced restart but that organically changes what you are reading as you read. I experimented with this in "The Dream Deliverer," a book where children were given the choice of right and wrong and got to see what would happen as the choices got increasingly risky.
"The Dream Deliverer" could not have been done easily in print. The final book totaled over four hundred pages, way too expensive for an indie print run, and cumbersome to do in a choose your own adventure style. There were twenty-six unique endings along with six hidden illustrations (prizes for finding the different endings.) The book kept track of the reader's decisions and changed the story, and the choices, accordingly.
And it was all done with simple HTML.
Think of what we could do with a more advanced programming language. We could create stories where the reader inputs characters, situations, objects, and the story incorporates them. Not simply Mad Libs either, but writing that could react to the reader. What if we wrote two versions of the same story, one where the lead character is male and the other is female and then the reader chooses the sex of the main character at the beginning? How fascinating would that be? Or what if we used objects to symbolize story components and allowed readers to generate stories by simply arranging those objects?
When you consider the creative possibilities of eBooks the whole argument over print versus digital seems rather moot. It's as if we debated the superiority of film to television, theatre to reading, or video games to music. They are all different mediums with their own sets of considerations, strengths, and weaknesses. The great fallacy is thinking that eBooks and print books are enemies in the first place. Print has it's advantages over eReaders as well; offering a tactile experience, a strong sense of progress, and a sense of possession that eBooks can never duplicate.
So rather than focusing on a debate between mediums, I would admonish you to craft the story that you want to tell in the medium that most suits its telling; and do so in the manner that best utilizes your chosen medium. Use the tools you have at your disposal and create something that the world has never seen before.
Dream Deliverer link:
A.J.Cosmo amazon author page
A.J.Cosmo amazon author page
A.J. Cosmo's website: