In a very thought-provoking essay, David Meerman Scott at WebInkNow quotes Zak Nelson’s thoughts about how book design needs to change to reflect an emerging visual and textual literacy driven by the hours upon hours we all spend online. To Nelson, this equates to a more comic book-like book design.

Nelson is talking about print books, yet a lot of action these days is around e-books. Today, is expected to introduce a new version of its sellout Kindle, one that will likely improve on its predecessor and lower the price. In addition, Amazon has revealed it will begin offering Kindle books on cellphones, the better to compete with the iPhone’s emerging book platform.

Mike Elgan at Computerworld thinks the e-book is about to catch fire. He identifies six forces that will drive rapid adoption in the very near-term:

  1. The economy — e-books are cheaper
  2. The environment — e-books are “greener”
  3. The self-publishing revolution — “The book publishing industry is one of the most backward, musty, obsolete businesses in our economy”
  4. Effective e-book marketing — social media, contextual advertising, etc.
  5. The rise of books written as e-books — the medium will celebrate creativity, shorter titles, more frequent updates, and other format innovations
  6. The demise of newspapers — blogs on dead trees no longer make sense

These may not be the exact trends (I’d add something about children with overburdened backpacks who would welcome a thin, electronic homework reading device), but there are plenty of forces lining up to change the book — both aesthetically and functionally.

As John Siracusa writes on ArsTechnica, those who scoff at e-books had better take notice:

“Books will never go away.” True! Horses have not gone away either.

“Books have advantages over e-books that will never be overcome.” True! Horses can travel over rough terrain that no car can navigate. Paved roads don’t go everywhere, nor should they.

“Books provide sensory/sentimental/sensual experiences that e-books can’t match.” True! Cars just can’t match the experience of caring for and riding a horse: the smells, the textures, the sensations, the companionship with another living being.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Did you ride a horse to work today? I didn’t.

Neither did I.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


5 Thoughts on "New Literacy = New Books"

eBook readers are right on the edge of taking off. Oprah pushing the first Kindle has made the States pay attention and Sony’s reader is going great guns in Europe, particularly in the UK where the Kindle isn’t available.

5 or 6 years, these things will be as common as the iPod, although probably nowhere near as popular.

Siracusa’s article makes some good points, but he’s clearly biased toward an industry in which he used to work, and he’s guilty of a lot of wishful thinking.

The car/horse analogy is not a fair one. I could just as easily substitute clocks and the wonderful 1970’s innovation of calling a number to hear the correct time. Because of that technological breakthrough, we no longer use clocks, right? Some designs are so good they last a really, really long time, and books fall into that category. The kludgy, limited, impractical and expensive e-book solutions currently offered are not yet ready to knock it out of usage. It may be coming soon, but a $359 device with no color is not the answer.

“..a $359 device with no color is not the answer.” agreed.

a fairer comparison than that neat 70’s ‘time-calling’ thingy (i’d forgotten about that, can you believe it?) might be to consider where all the phone booths went. in a world in which there is more than one technological solution to a problem or need, the winning technology may turn out to be the better, or even the best one; but not necessarily. it might just prove to be the best-marketed one. it is enormously hard to predict onto which side of the fence the reading-format marble will drop. there are too many changing variables at the moment. this is a fascinating process to (try to) observe.

Kind of a weird thought…a “Used Kindlestore.”

I like the experimental nature of all these ideas and products. What I don’t like is the thought of those who don’t have the means to participate in the gadget/ gimmick landscape. It’s incredibly expensive.

Being cut off from “print” (ie: newspapers) seems borderline unconstitutional, particularly for elderly. My 80-year-old neighbor asks what happened to America and I can’t even tell her because the words don’t make sense. It’ll have to be radio all the way for her!

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