Digital Reading: Is It an E-Book or “Just an App”? Comments on Our Choice Give Detailed Feedback
By Anne Kostick, Partner, Foxpath IND
At the end of April, Push Pop Press released the inaugural title for their new interactive publishing platform—Our Choice, by Al Gore. This enhanced e-book has everything going for it: gorgeous interactive graphics; fun use of finger-manipulation, audio and video (by now a requirement); and, last but never least, the fuel injection that makes a book fly—a famous name and a best-seller legacy.
Last week it was reviewed in David Pogue’s New York Times blog. To say that Pogue liked it is an understatement. “For once, here’s an e-book that really does redefine the net effect of an e-book,” he applauded. “The interactivity, the zooming into graphic elements and the videos aren’t a gimmick. They actually add up to a different experience.”
Naturally, readers pounced. They took issue with Pogue’s evaluation of the object as an e-book, instead of (or more primarily than) an app. They listed the product’s shortcomings, sounding a lot like a primer on usability and demonstrating some of the basic principles outlined last week in this column, and requesting that the product be more e-book like, not more app-like.
Some readers took the opportunity to argue with Gore’s knowledge and information on global warming, getting right into the (gasp!) content of the “book” and apparently ignoring or not even caring about its toy-like “interactive” aspects. Others disputed whether this iOS-only presentation should even be called an e-book.
For an audience that cares about books, and not just about new apps, the quality and content of the remarks give a fine example of user research in its natural habitat. Committed users are telling us what they want and expect in an e-book. Here, disregarding Gore-haters and Apple-haters, were some of the main points:
Critiquing Our Choice as a book
- This will be great for textbooks; good for learning difficult subjects.
- Want it as a Kindle/Android/Nook/ whatever platform I’ve already got.
- It’s not an e-book, and that’s bad. It’s really a portable (but too static) website.
- There should be an enhanced index.
- Chapter thumbnails are a bad substitute for a table of contents and useless as navigation.
- Can’t change the font size (even though a study showed that you won’t learn the material any better; still, many of us need bigger type to read it at all).
- Can’t seem to do what I have come to expect in e-books (clipping, marking, sharing; a consistency problem)
- Can’t find it in the iTunes store (discoverability problem)
Critiquing Our Choice as an app
- No active controls; can’t pause in mid-video; nonstandard video controls.
- No accessibility for the deaf or hard of hearing.
- Not clear how to manipulate the pictures, and then it’s not easy enough to do (“concierge approach” problem).
- Files are too big for a portable device.
- Too linear (meaning, too traditional book-like).
- “Interactivity with static content is a dead concept.”
- No social media integration? By now should be standard.
- This type of “book” is really a mini-website and should be as dynamic as a website.
The line between a book and “something else” is still in flux; just see how often the word “book” still appears inside quotation marks. We still disagree on what constitutes an immersive experience (is it like reading a text? Or is it like watching a movie?) We will probably forever disagree on what creates a distraction. (Some readers despise sidebars, for example. Or, for another example, and speaking of movies; trying to write this column while they are shooting the next “Spider-Man” film outside my house!)
What we do agree on is that taking a new interactive concept for a test run only leads to more exciting ideas and products, especially if we keep UX in mind. And for next week: What was Sally Field reading on her Kindle between takes?
NOTE: DBW has launched an Editorial Forum on LinkedIn, a sub-group for editors and others working in trade publishing to discuss standards, workflow, best practices, and the general Qs that most print people feel when confronted with terms like “workflow.” The Forum is moderated by Anne Kostick and David B. Schlosser. Anne’s weekly column, Digital Reading, discusses the field of User Experience and explores what it offers to trade publishers.
Anne Kostick is a partner in Foxpath IND, a digital-print-web consulting and services company specializing in the transition to and from traditional content development, management and publishing. She is also the editor in chief of Dulcinea Media, an online publisher in the educational market, and is the current president of Women’s Media Group.