I Declare the War is Over*: We need a new word for the things we used to call "books"
Michael Weinstein will be speaking on the "Create Once, Distribute Everywhere" panel at the Publishing Business Conference & Expo. More at publishingbusiness.com.
It’s time to come up with new words for what we’re creating. “Ebooks” just doesn’t cut it anymore.
The past week pretty much covered the gamut of what’s going on in our industry for me. Tuesday I heard a wonderful, impassioned speech about physical books. And then on Thursday… well, perhaps you’ve heard that Apple made an announcement or two.
On Tuesday night, Kevin Spall (CEO of Thomson-Shore, Inc.) gave a speech at the Book Industry Guild of New York meeting. Kevin spoke, not only of his background, but spent some time reminding us what a wonderful thing the printed/bound book is. The history, of course, is rich. I confess that I did not realize that codex binding (basically the same thing we do today) has been around for over 1,700 years. Of course, some will describe that history as “rich” and others as “ancient” (and not in a good way).
He also spoke of the intimate nature of the physical book—the touch and smells and sounds. I know the first thing I do with a book that’s not digitally printed is crack the spine and smell the ink on the paper. I used to make excuses to go on press checks or printer visits just for the smells and sounds. To say nothing of picking up some of that incredible knowledge that people running the equipment had gathered.
And, of course, he spoke of the great care and craftsmanship that goes into physical books.
Not to get hung up on the past, he used the release of Jay-Z’s Decoded as a way of combining the physical book with current technology. Pages from the book were placed on billboards, sides of buildings, etc. in neighborhoods that those pages spoke of. Facebook was used to guide people to the next postings. Brilliant.
Then a couple of days later Apple dropped their bombs. By now, you’re read a ton of detailed analysis, so I’ll just make a few points about their announcements.
As they have done before, Apple presented the world with a delivery system for something that does not reflect the current reality for purchasing that content. They did it with iTunes and they’re doing it again with their textbooks. While $14.99 sounds like a great price for a textbook, the fact is that high school students don’t buy textbooks. So, if this is to succeed, Apple will need to supply iPads to school districts that adopt the books. Hardly the first time that hardware is used to capture other sales.
Forget about picking over the details of what is, or isn’t, in the first version of iBooks Author. There are lots of questions to be answered about this, as well. Fact is, it’s another step forward. As always, some details to follow later.
Also, I think that the potential long-term impact of the expanded iTunes U could be enormous. I fear that this will get lost in the shuffle of the other announcements. An app that truly allows for all course content, as well as management by both teacher and student, to be in one place could be huge. It also allows for the expansion of the idea of “education,” extending learning even further.
But, of course, the really big announcements had to do with textbooks in iBooks and iBook Author.
First of all, while I completely agree that we should continue to celebrate the craftsmanship and creativity that go into a physical book, isn’t it long past time that we do the same for those creating ebooks, apps, iBooks, etc.? We tend to hold up physical books as an example of artisanship AS OPPOSED TO ebooks. Nonsense. It does not diminish the craftsmanship of a physical book to trumpet the design, vision and implementation of, for example, the E.O. Wilson book offered for free thru Apple. That book, and many others, are stunning accomplishments. Isn’t it time to agree that cutting your hands during the creation of something is not the only definition of craftsmanship?
Apple has now successfully extended the boundary of what we are now calling ebooks, to the point where it’s difficult to call them “books” anymore. I have written here before about extending the definition of the word “book.” I think it’s time to toss it out.
Yes, there is content being presented in an organizational structure that we associate with a book—chunked in chapters, etc. But the fact is that, either from the author, or in the hands of the reader, that is not necessarily true. There’s now a freedom from being constrained by those boundaries. And the integration of audio/video that we’ve seen before but has been extended in Apple’s textbooks takes us further from that point.
Sure, “book” is a word that we’re all comfortable with and a concept that has a shared understanding. But that understanding has changed and continues to change in front of our eyes. It’s okay to call the printed object a book, and maybe we even call flat PDF versions of that a “book.”
I don’t know what that new word should be. Obviously, it needs to be something non-threatening, something that everyone feels comfortable with. I thought of “ice cream” but realized that had been taken.
What do you think? Anybody have suggestions?
*Oh, and by the way, the title of the blog is a quote from Phil Ochs, one of my heroes.