Tuesday, April 29, 2014

HELLO! Books Are Digitally Different

So what will be the next technology must have and what will drive its adoption? Will media come second and merely follow new technology?

In the last decade we have seen the transition from fixed location desktop PCs, through luggable laptops, the life and death of the notepad, the ‘air’ laptops and the explosion of the tablet. We have seen single functional devices such as the eink ereaders come and almost go, the transition from games only consoles to games anywhere, the death of the music only iPod and Zune and those video movie players. Home entertainment devices and interoperability has been redefined. The app, the cloud and streamed media services have arrived. Today the smartphone, or computer in your pocket, has taken over all our lives.

It has been a decade of significant technological and culture change and is unlikely to stop or even slow down as the technology shrinks, gets more powerful and anytime, anywhere and at high speed continue to drive our thirst to be connected. Our interface with technology is becoming more intuitive and although we may still be some distance from Pranev Mistry’s sixth sense world, it’s coming.

So how are the media and creative industries responding? What can we expect to see soon and what is still stuck some way off?

If we just look at film, music and books we see that although technology has increasingly impacted the development of the stuff, the output is the same. Films are still 90 to 120 mins long and apart from some 3D and computer aided technology the majority remain as they were. Music still retains the same length of tracks and although the technology has dumbed down the quality of content, a song is still a song. Books remain books with the vast majority of ebooks being straight digital renditions of the physical book.

However, there is a significant difference between books and the other two media. Film does not exist in a native technology free form, Unless you count the theatre and live music performances, both Film and music are very different cultural experiences and consumer purchases and not something you can put on the shelf and replay at will. Music has evolved through a series of disruptive technology changes, from vinyl, cassettes, 8track, CDrom, to today’s streamed MP3 on demand. Vinyl may be enjoying a small and limited renaissance and success in clubs, but for the average consumer it’s only like discovering a pile of old 78s and then looking for the device to play them on. The gramophone players, Walkman, ghetto blasters have gone and today we have the personalised earpiece connected to the smartphone and the cloud.

Books are different. Books remain and ebooks are a competing new rendition like the paperback was to the hardback. This difference challenges the ebooks ability to be a disruptive rendition and to kill off its previous forms. Book technology and the reader goes back hundreds of years and isn’t broken, nor is it made obsolete by the new form or its evolving technology. Therefore eBooks over pBooks is not a straight binary decision choice.

When we first grappled with the ebook in the 90s we often tried to enhance and exploit the content with the technology. Many fingers got burnt and so when it returned under the eink revolution, many kept it simple and also found that the eink technology didn’t exactly encourage content enhancement. However as tablets, mobile and smartphone technology become ubiquitous some may now return to enhance the content. Others may choose a different route and abridge it, or even play to the strengths of the technology and embrace the obvious – the short form.

Whatever the route taken the stupid thing would be to continue to merely pour the same content into a digital container. This logic is flawed as it not only creates competition where competition is not needed and can be counter-productive, but it fails to understand the technology, the cultural changes that are happening and the opportunities that are available for the two that matter - the author and the reader.

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