This week’s O’Reilly Tools of Change should have been called “O’Reilly’s E-reading Conference,” as nearly every square inch of exhibit space and every session dripped of e-books and e-readers. Not that I minded it. After years of watching journals adapt to e-reading patterns, it was striking to see how quickly advances are being made in the transition from print to e-reading of books in nearly all forms (including illustrated and children’s books).
Apple’s iAuthor and Amazon’s Kindle Format 8 (KF8), along with Inkling and a raft of other players, are all driving us very quickly to a point at which content migration and content creation for e-books and e-readers will become both easy and potentially primary. Add that to the rapid adoption of e-reading devices (iOS, Kindle, Nook, and others), and you have apparently unstoppable momentum.
The new tools are addressing some of the persnickety limitations we’ve all seen with e-readers and e-books in general — the inability to format pages beautifully, to include illustrations in a reliable manner, to manage fonts well, and so forth. Now, pop-up, scrolling, integrated, and fixed graphics are all options — but you need the right device. Fortunately, the right devices are here, and many of us have them or are contemplating getting them. The Kindle Fire and the iPad top the list, not necessarily in that order.
The biggest challenge in all this to me doesn’t emanate from the technology sector. The technologists are all over the problem, and they’re building great technology — hardware, OS, and software. The biggest challenge to me will be finding authors and editors capable of taking advantage of all these things in short order. The creative culture will take a while to fill the void being created by such rapid forward progress with devices and software.
One word used during the meeting that was new to me was “skeuomorph,” that tendency to view the future as a metaphor of the present. The concept of a “radio play” was a skeumorph for radio, a transitional concept tying a play to a new technology. You’d never anticipate the “American Top 40″ from within the skeuomorph, but the skeuomorph keeps you moving along.
The term “e-book” may be a skeuomorph itself. After all, why would a device capable of connectivity, layered information, multimedia software traversals, and social networking remain a “book”? This sounds like 1990s futurism, but it’s also so close you can touch it now. Maybe those 1990s futurists will be vindicated. After all, the future was there. It just wasn’t uniformly distributed. Now, it’s much more uniformly distributed.
E-reading may ultimately own a completely different experiential realm, one that doesn’t supplant the book but is just different from the book. This is also part of the history of skeuomorphs — the springboard remains pretty much the same while the item launched morphs into something quite different.
Seeing the energy, listening to the customer data, and sensing the creative potential being created at the intersections of e-reading and e-experience — well, it made me want to go and find that new breed of author/creator/talent. I hope they’re out there — if not now, then soon.