The New (Electronic) Book


EBooks and Related Sites--- So what?---What do they look like?---Why bother? Hypertext Virtues---Such bother!---But just you wait!

So what?

People are beginning to share ideas in ways which cut out middle people and traditional book and magazine publishers. We are witness to a publishing revolution which allows writers to share their work as soon as it is written. No more waiting for 6-9 months or more while the publisher passes through elaborate rituals to transfer the electronic text to paper.

Does anybody care? Writers might. A hot topic, well written, might catch a WWW wave and attract thousands more readers than a traditionally marketed hard copy book. "Word of mouth" is everything on the WWW. If the right people love the book and it is publicized effectively, the author may quadruple the audience. For some writers, being heard and read is everything. The more the merrier. How disappointing to work for 3-6 months on a book, wait 9 months to see it published and then watch for 12 months while a floundering marketing campaign results in meagre sales.

The author gains artistic control over the material. No more publisher title changes. I remember my angst when one publisher changed a book title from "Hypercards from the Edge" to "Administrators at Risk." The author of an EBook can thumb a nose at such suggestions.

The downside of that one is the extremely uneven quality which is likely to emerge as every Tom, Dick and Mary learns that one can publish a book for the token investment of $30 per month. Like much of the material on the WWW, EBooks may emerge which make pulp fiction seem like high art. Most EBooks of poor quality are likely to languish with little attention and few readers, however. Word of mouth will only lift up the truly remarkable and noteworthy books.

Along with artistic control comes freedom of expression. The author may express relatively controversial ideas without worrying about the wrath of advertisers. Those of us who are generally critical of CD-ROM publishers' products or Microsoft's bloated software products, may write books without much concern about lost advertising revenue. The book publishers, many of whom also publish magazines, have more to worry about.

The reader benefits by reading uncut, current and undiluted material. It's the real thing! At times it may seem a bit raw, but an Ebook can deliver breaking edge material as soon as it's invented. No stale, late-to-market publishing vehicle, this. Want to build WWW pages? Read here the latest thinking about approaches which make for smoothly functioning and communicative sites. If you wait for traiditional print publishers, it may be a year before that material hits book form.

Authors might also generate more income in this manner. From traditional book publishing, most non-fiction or academic writers are lucky to see 10% emerge as royalties from the sale of each book. A $20 title brings the author $2. If the book sells a few thousand copies, the author nets $4,000 for 3-6 months of writing. Hardly minmum wage! With electronic books, the author may attract many more readers and more dollars. If the electronic version is good, many readers will still want the hard copy version later. Both versions may reinforce each other's sales.

For decades now, traditonal publishers have bemoaned the expense of publishing first novels. Hard to make a profit. EBooks might cut out all but the author's pay, drop the cost of purchase and allow for a renaissance in poetry and fiction. The traditional hard copy book consumes huge amounts of cash producing the physical product, marketing the product and moving the product. By eliminating the middle people, the Ebook brings art or ideas to the reader for bargain prices.

EBooks may offer a different kind of reading and learning if the writer takes advantage of hyperlinked text and graphics. When exploring ideas, it is possible to do so in a non-linear fashion, hopping around with mouse-clicks to ideas, topics and questions as they strike your fancy. Few EBook publishers seem to have caught up with this feature thus far, but the potential is enormous. Multimedia enhanced non-linear thinking, writing and learning offers profoundly different outcomes.

EBooks and Related Sites--- So what?---What do they look like?---Why bother?---Such bother!---But just you wait!

What do they look like?

There are six major types of EBooks as this is written. As you explore examples, you will note that a prime discriminating aspect of these books is the extent to which they take advantage of Multimedia and Hypertext features.

1) Same Old - Same Old

The content may be brilliant, inventive and "out of the box," but these EBooks take little advantage of the format available to organize thoughts and concepts. Closely associated with the Bookshelf, this type is essentially a classic or new book which is presented in traditional linear format, usually without any special features such as hyperlinked text or searching mechanisms.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Table of Contents
Tools for Thought by Howard Rheingold: Table of Contents
The Virtual Community by Howard Rheingold: Table of Contents

2) The On-Line Bookshelf

The bookshelf is actually a collection of books - usually classics which have slipped into the public domain - which are available for reading on-line or downloading. They are especially attractive if they offer a searching tool which allows the reader to find particular passages with economy and dispatch. In most cases, these EBooks are simple in format and provide no hyper-linking. They take little advantage of hypertext features.


Columbia University: Project Bartleby

3) The Download

An electronic book which is not really available on the WWW but can be downloaded once the viewer had paid a fee of some kind. The vendor sends the file by e-mail or an address which allows for FTP or some other form of downloading. These documents may arrive as simple text files or as HTML source documents or as Adobe Acxrobat files with attractive format. The viewer is usually allowed to read the Table of Contents and a chapter for free.


4) The Rubrics Cube Hyperlinked Book

The truly hyperlinked multimedia book provides three dimensionality in text organization and display, employing graphics, audio and video in a dramatically supportive manner. Picture information assembled and displayed as a Rubrics Cube. Intense! Intuitive. Non-linear. multi-sensory. This kind of book supports non-linear exploration. Intuitive leaps. Inventive dance. Curiosity. Wonder. Revelation. Insight. Illumination. AHA!


Re-Inventing Schools
Engines for Education - by Roger Schank and Chip Cleary

5) The Exploratorium

When VRML (Virtual Reality NL - a three dimensional version of HTML) becomes the WWW browser of choice, we will be able to "walk" into the EBook. The Ebook will be a learning environment which supports exploration. The Exploratorium will give the viewer/reader a chance to wander right into the Russian or French Revolutions' most dramatic moments. Participatory reading! CD-ROM programs like Myst come the closest to hinting at the EBook to come.

"Ah, but how can you call that a book?" the skeptics query.

Ebooks and electronic publishing fall under different rules than traditional hard-copy books. The trick with these frontier publishing technologies is to push their potential to the hilt. Most Ebooks today are hard=copy books dressed up in HTML clothing. They take little advantage of multimedia or hyperlinked text.


Quoted from the site . . . " Planet 9 Studios, using a specially modified portion of their larger San Francisco model, has created VIRTUAL SOMA, the first 3D city model to be viewed in real time on the Internet. SOMA (South of Market Street Area) is the neighborhood in San Francisco where most of the Internet software and animation development happens. In VIRTUAL SOMA you can walk (or fly if you prefer) down actual San Francisco streets. Buildings have actual photos of their exteriors applied to their 3D model. By touching on a building (hyper-link), you can walk inside, play an animation or leap to the home page of the company occupying the building.

6) The Interactive, BYO Decision Book

Dissatisfied with short stories, novels, plays and historical incidents in which the main characters or players keep making "dumb" decisions? The interactive book allows you to make critical decisions and see the consequences. Save Napoleon's army from the deadly march to Moscow. Block Hitler from gaining power. Halt the mutiny on the Bounty. Help Thomas Wolfe go home again. Save the bulls from death in the ring by re-writing "The Sun Also Rises."

This kind of book puts the reader in the "driver's seat." Combined with multimedia and the features of VRML mentioned above, this EBook leads to dramatic engagement with content, plot, destiny and responsibility. These Ebooks are hard to find so far.


EBooks and Related Sites--- So what?---What do they look like?---Why bother?---Such bother!---But just you wait!

Why bother?

The old kinds of books are great. I spend a fortune in order to hold hard cover novels and breaking edge non-fiction books in my hands. It's a close contest between hours with paper and hours with WWW. So why bother with EBooks? What's so special?

We are going to see changes in the publishing and communications systems of the world which will dramatically alter (and often improve) the way we learn and explore. Hard copy books are enormously slow and expensive to produce. Hot content and breaking news cools by print time. What percentage of the books we buy and shelve actually circulate and reach readers after their first appearance?

Some of us still move (unopened) boxes of college books from home to home. Others pile them up in corners. They are great to have and hold and stack, but they suffer from age and certain technological difficulties.

Major arguments for good EBooks:

  1. Timeliness - The information comes to market fresh - hot - sizzling.
  2. Connectedness - Hyperlinking provides the reader with instant access to related works and related thinking.
  3. Intuitive Design - Non-linear organization and indexing allows the mind to jump and leap and dance and play. The reader is in more control of the sequencing.
  4. Searchability - Good EBooks provide searching capabilities which speed and support the discovery and exploration process.
  5. Impact - The use of multimedia greatly enhances the power of the Word.

EBooks and Related Sites--- So what?---What do they look like?---Why bother?---Such bother!---But just you wait!

Such bother!

There is a lot wrong with most EBooks right now. They rarely do much with the technology. Most offer word processing files rapidly converted into HTML with little thought of how the hyperlinked multimedia might alter the communication.

A good book is a pleasure to hold. You can curl up with a book. EBooks don't usually snuggle in bed the way a book may. They force you to sit in front of a screen and scroll or click endlessly.

And they are not cheap - the good ones - despite what they tell you. Online time is rarely free. Downloaded versions usually come with a price tag.

The pickings are slim. Little to choose from. Little quality. Fringe abounds. Solid quality lurks in hard copy editions.

EBooks remain for the most part a promise of things to come. EBooks and Related Sites--- So what?---What do they look like?---Why bother?---Such bother!---But just you wait!

But just you wait!

When they figure out how to charge credit cards without security problems and when some big players like GNN, AOL and Simon and Schuster put dollars behind quality EBook development, we are going to see some blockbuster productions. The early EBooks are generally poor distant cousines of hard copy books. The huge WWW burgeoning market for EBooks will only emerge when true EBooks arrive.

EBooks and Related Sites--- So what?---What do they look like?---Why bother?---Such bother!---But just you wait!

EBooks and Related Sites

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Table of Contents
BiblioBytes Home Page
Columbia University: Project Bartleby
Electronic Book Technologies (EBT)
Engines for Education - Roger Schrank
The Hacker Crackdown - Contents
One Horse Rhino
Ordering-How To Use
Reinventing Schools: The Technology Is Now
Sightings of whales in literature
Tools for Thought by Howard Rheingold: Table of Contents
The Virtual Community by Howard Rheingold: Table of Contents
Whitman, Walt. 1900. Leaves of Grass.
Yahoo - Entertainment:Books

EBooks and Related Sites--- So what?---What do they look like?---Why bother?---Such bother!---But just you wait!

Credits: The background is from Jay Boersma.
Other drawings and graphics are by Jamie McKenzie.

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