Sunday, December 6, 2009

e-Books and the Future of Print

I love books and it isn't just about the contents for me; I relish in the smell of the paper, the sound of a crisp page turning, and the revisiting of well-thumbed illustrations – often with undying wonder. Books bring me comfort and my night stand is always covered in various titles that I peck at over a period of months.

For the past several years I, along with my close friend Dale Cochran, have been experimenting with interactive pdfs. I give Dale credit for initially revealing the possibilities to me and together we've spent a good deal of time sharing ideas on how to make them work. The potential to create 'living brochures' is something that really intrigues me and I am surprised that this exciting possibility has yet to be fully grasped and accepted by more business and advertisers. There are also huge opportunities for educational publications –particularly in the realm of children's literature– where sound and motion can be blended into a book effectively to enhance a reader's experience. Imagine a book on the Amazon rainforest in which a page is turned only to ignite the lush sounds of a waterfall punctuated by the harsh cries of a macaw. The technology has been around for several years but only just now seems to be gaining some traction. Children are already so used to learning on-screen that I suspect they will have no issue with embracing this type of learning experience.

In spite of my enthusiasm for all of this, I still have had my doubts about the possibility of successfully selling electronic copies of highly artistic photography books. After spending several hours on the computer most days, the last thing that I want to do is be tethered to a machine for a while longer to read a book. Anyone else feel this way? Well, my doubts were put to rest after witnessing the successful sale of William Neill's "Landscapes of the Spirit" e-Book. In brief correspondence with Bill, I naively expressed my lack of faith (as I mention above) but I'm happy to report that I was proven very wrong. His beautiful e-Edition sold briskly and he has now added others to his on-line store.

When developing an e-Book, there are a couple of different approaches to take and both have their ups and downs. The first type, which until recently had been the sole source of my focus, is the interactive PDF. These documents can feature streaming video, sound and motion. They are easily developed in Adobe InDesign CS3 & 4 (in conjunction with Acrobat Pro) and look fantastic on screen. Another advantage is that the layout of these documents stays just as designed on screen and there aren't any issues with image shift or text re-wrapping. At the moment, this is definitely the best approach for artistic photography books and graphic-heavy pieces.

The second approach involves designing Digital Editions for e-Readers such as Amazon's highly popular Kindle or Barnes and Nobles' Nook. What these e-Books lack in design appeal, they regain in terms of flexibility and ease of use on various devices. In my opinion, I believe that this is the way to go for instructional books where information, and not graphics, lead the way. These can also easily be designed and exported from InDesign CS4 (and CS3).

Today I find myself in the developmental phase of two projects in which e-Books and digital editions will be highly featured. After spending several years toying with the technology and following the development of these next generation books, I'm very excited to have an opportunity to actually put my knowledge to good use and for good causes (more to come on these later). Although I don't expect printed books to ever really go away, as digital reading devices become more and more prevalent I feel certain that the old way of distributing written materials will diminish to some degree. The next few years will certainly be interesting for designers, photographers and publishers in particular.

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