Digital Reading: On the Way to the Webcast, a Funny Thing Happened

Anne KostickGather a group of digital publishing pros and usability experts in the same (virtual) room, and the discussion gets deep, detailed, and far-seeing. Last week during DBW’s webcast, “Reader Experience and E-books: What UX Experts Can Teach Publishers,” the topic turned on issues of user experience, but raised many broader questions about how to move toward creating better—maybe even great—reading experiences through e-books.

Panelists Whitney Quesenbery, Brett Sandusky and Todd Toler talked at length both before and during the webcast, identifying areas for e-book improvement, putting some things at the top of the priority list, and making those wish lists. Here are just a few bullet points from the hour as well as the run-up to the hour; there was much more. I hope they’ll turn out to be a preview of continuing conversations on the subject.

•  The digital reader experience isn’t just about the container, but also about the content. Publishers can, indeed, add unique features to the content that enhances the experience, even short of producing highly “enhanced” e-books.

•  Readers should be able to control their own digital reading experience. One way is by being able to turn off certain features. Someone said, “UX can’t be controlled but it can be instigated”; I like that.

•  Choose the right platform for the right content. Yes, we all know that novels are different from travel guides, but putting this knowledge into practice when developing digital products is another mental bridge to cross. For new books, digital product development must begin at the beginning, as part of the total book development process.

•  Think about the experience through the lens of the medium. What’s important in print may not be important in digital. Instead of trying to emulate the print book in all ways, try to anticipate what the reader wants to experience at different moments in the activity of reading.

•  “The future arrives early” in some segments of the industry. Look to textbook and academic journal publishing for lessons in how to integrate digital and multimedia components, online access, and community engagement with printed books.

•  Workflow must change. There’s a long way to go before print and digital design converge and work together, but publishers may have a deeper skill set and more enthusiastic in-house staff for this change than they realize. In five years, the idea of publishers using only a print designer for a book may be passé. Book production workflow will more closely resemble digital product and software development. Publishing staffs will be more interdisciplinary than before.

•  E-books have actually restored interest in a good reading experience. Now, both publishers and readers are aware of the difference between good and less-good interactions. Unfortunately, HTML coders have been “laggards” in good design. Although we hope that HTML5 and EPUB 3 will solve all our problems, we’ll still need to apply intelligent digital design in the creation of e-books.

•  Stay open to change. Working in digital is an iterative process; that means we can get and implement feedback and fix errors immediately and repeatedly. The possibility for product improvement is continual.

•  A feature wish list from Whitney: A beautiful, uncluttered reading experience; the ability to jump easily to learn more (not necessarily within the book); the ability to mark and cut text to save things.

•  What makes for great user experience? Among other things: data collection and reaction (getting information/giving information); open boundaries; acknowledging and allowing the emotional factor in reading.

NOTE: DBW members enjoy full access to the audio archive of DBW WEBcasts, including this one on “Reader Experience and E-books: What UX Experts Can Teach Publishers.” Plus, get exclusive access to DBW conference video and audio archives and discounts on Intensive WEBCasts by becoming a DBW member today.

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.

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