Monday, February 11, 2008

Re-Jacketing Content

We read today that HarperCollins is yet again at the digital front and pushing back the boundaries. It is now extending some of its ‘browse inside’ digital samples to whole books. The premise is that as they make more available then they will entice more to buy. The offer is not extended to downloads, printing and orders will be fulfilled by Amazon.

The offer could not be resisted and makes a stark difference from the often miserly few pages offered by many or the ‘surprise me’ offered by Amazon.

Unfortunately the offer doesn’t do digital ebooks a great service as it merely rendered the physical 268 pages of Paulo Coelho’ s ‘The witch of Portabello’ on the screen as images within a flash player. What’s wrong with that you may ask? Well it includes blank pages, you would think someone would have thought that one out. It is an image within a flash player so is restricted by the player in the size of the screen and functionality; basically you can make it fit the screen or make it smaller and see the table of contents. The real issue it highlights is the use of roman fonts to read digital text. Roman fonts look great on paper and add a certain style but on a screen are very difficult to read and when in italics are very difficult to read.

"Warriors: Into the Wild" from the children's series by Erin Hunter was easier to read as the font colour was darker but only the first 60 pages were available. Robert Irvine’s cookbook ‘Mission Cook’ was a huge disappointment. We expected photographs of his dishes but found none. It also showed that placing coloured text in coloured sidebars, may well work in the printer copy, but look bad on screen.

Flash drives and widgets are samplers to show off physical and digital books.

Nobody is going to read a whole book in a flash drive. There is therefore little point in highlighting the digital restrictions of flash by showing the whole book. More importantly the exercise is good if it starts to teach us that what worked in print may not work digitally. Font is an obvious issues but it stretches to layout and design. We have long taken content and merely re-jacketed it, hardback to paperback etc. Perhaps now we have to start to think differently about the digital representation.

There is little point to showing the whole book if by doing so it could potentially turns off the consumer to digital books.