Publishers: We Need A Map

It is a little surprising that no one did this sooner.

In December, there were two great video mock-ups for what the future of magazines might look like , but IDEO is the first to give us ebook eye candy and a version of what the future of books might look like.

Their video describes three use cases (each with a cute name):

  • Nelson is the hyperlinked book, a potential answer to the question that many of asked about how reading can be a more social experience. The fact that the Kindle still won't let me see what friends are reading and bookmarking seems insane. Amazon has this data, there must be a way to share it with us.
  • Coupland is corporate LinkedIn for books where we can share books we like with each other or as a company with the outside world. The honest problem here is that the application would expose how few people read books.
  • Alice describes the transmedia experience with clues and rabbit paths opened by shaking the screen or physically visiting a location. It also ties in fan fiction to create a richer fictional universe.

The first thing that strikes me is that all of these exist in some form already and that better design and touchscreen UI could make them so much more interesting and accessible in the very, very near future.

The second thing is that IDEO is saying "Look how much better the book is going to be?" But the book itself doesn't really change in any of their cases, what we know about the book does. And this is an important distinction that is making the discussion about the future of publishing difficult.

The book is a social object that delivers story and narrative but also creates story and narrative. The two need to be better connected. It is not enough to be able to "Like" a book.

We need coordinates inside the book. Permalinks need to exist down to the paragraph level. Some have argued that chapter and verse is a possible solution. The length of the medium requires something new. The time stamp acts as a universal connector in music and movies independent of the platform. Books need a textual GPS to allow cross-referencing across multiple formats.

When we can start connecting the tweets, reviews, fan fiction, and all the other stuff the readers create, the really cool stuff that IDEO proposes here will become possible. Publishers need to provide the map.

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