Digital Reading: Other Conferences, Other Insights

Anne KostickBy Anne Kostick, Partner, Foxpath IND

While everyone is getting ready for BookExpo and its concurrent gatherings, and while publishers are focusing on the details of e-book conversion and innovation, it’s good to check in with what’s happening in other media-focused industries. How can their knowledge and insights into user experience be applied to future digital books and reading experiences?

At CreateTech, an intensive, one-day conference on May 20 hosted by the advertising industry group The 4A’s, speakers from agencies as well as major advertisers discussed the results of working at the intersection of creativity and technology. For advertisers, user experience and response is critical.  If innovative and attention-getting projects are out there in media, how might they apply to digital books and reading devices?

BestBuy’s Director of Emerging Platforms, Gary Knelling, emphasized his viewpoint with a short video about APIs and open platform development. Using a game metaphor is popular right now, but the message applies to e-books as well as websites, mobile apps and all other digital products: true creativity emerges when the fences are torn down. As we gain experience in digital books, let’s wean ourselves from templates and closed platforms. Reliance on them will only turn digital books into PowerPoints of literature. There has to be a better path.

The ad agency McKinney showed off one of its gamelike interactives developed for a charitable organization. “Spent” puts the user in the place of the homeless and unemployed. We try to stay afloat for a month in a low-paying job (if we can get it), dodging the various disasters of illness, car accident, lack of childcare, expensive food, and more. “Spent” is built with several feedback levels to the user, including standard social media such as Facebook (where relevant) and of course, links to the sponsoring agency. The “donate” button is prominent, and the interaction between absorbing information and making decisions that affect the next step is seamless.

Here’s a way of linking an immersive learning environment to a text on the same subject matter; imagine a digital book that, at a significant page turn or other cue, opens up an interactive experience (call it a game, if you like)—not just a multimedia option—connected via wi-fi through the e-reader, that deepens the learning possibilities on the subject.

In the same vein, Kati London of the game company Zynga displayed its partner Area/Code’s take on “participatory remix” in the game “Sharkrunners,” developed for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.  The game (in which participants are researchers with grant money, boats, and crew members) connects users’ moves on a nautical map to actual sharks in real time.  E-mail messages alert the user to a shark encounter and prompt her to take action at the website. The real-time aspect of this project is exciting—a shark encounter could happen any minute! (My last encounter happened at 3 a.m: unfortunately, I slept through it.) But think of the e-book possibilities: Peter Benchley’s “Jaws” as participatory remix? I can’t wait.

At the Mashable Connect event in Orlando in mid-May, TV Guide Digital’s general manager, Christy Tanner, discussed the news about social TV: viewer habits are changing, and not in the way you might expect. Studies show that people are viewing more shows “live” (that is, at broadcast time) instead of engaging in time shifting with DVDs or delayed webcasting. Not only that, they’re shutting down their social media while viewing. Is this behavior telling us that viewers want to regain an immersive experience with the TV medium? The takeaway here for e-books may be, “Too much social media spoils the ending.” So let’s make sure our mystery series, thrillers, and potboilers aren’t overrun with comments, critiques and ending giveaways when linking to social.

Finally, CreateTech’s conference offered a high-level, thoughtful presentation from JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist at, about the new social enterprise—or, as he put it, the decline of the antisocial enterprise.  We now have so many easy-to-use tools to create  “social objects”—tweets, messages, photos, videos—and the ability to map them to locations and other objects using scanners, APIs, and GPS, that we can create what he called “logical households” around shared data.  The logical household around a certain book would be all those people reading, commenting, sharing, highlighting and reviewing that book.

Imagine the real-time possibilities: Maybe, just like in “Sharkrunners,” we could all have location tags that report our progress and whatever else we choose to share.  How’d you like an alert at 3 a.m. that Anne has just reached the final chapter of that white-knuckle thriller you are also reading: would you like to chat about it? Just don’t give away the ending.

NOTE: DBW has 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.

2 thoughts on “Digital Reading: Other Conferences, Other Insights

  1. Keith Snyder

    Comments from people you’ve never seen before can be annoying, especially when they disagree with what may not even be the main point of what you’ve written. But as a published author (traditional and ebook), film/music guy, and ebook designer, the huge emphasis on technology when the real point is content really gets to me.

    “true creativity emerges when the fences are torn down.”

    Respectfully: That has never been true, and will never be true. Creativity always emerges when there are limitations; Limitations are why there is creativity. Without them, there’s no pressing need to get creative.

    Infinite possibility is an ad jingle, not a part of the creative person’s reality. It’s marketing copy and rah-rah sales talk. Anybody who does creative work knows better.

    And I’ve been wrong before and will be again, but the PowerPoint analogy also strikes me as questionable. PowerPoint is at its best when it’s called on to disguise lack of content. Ebooks start with content. The job of the book designer is to stay out of the way of the experience, not to muck it up with lots of features that detract from READING. Remember reading? The last thing I want, while gripped by the author’s intention of keeping me gripped (remember authors?) is a pop-up that says Anne’s on page 142, and wouldn’t a latte from the coffee place downstairs go well with the last chapter of a thriller, and oh, by the way, if I don’t want ads in my book, I can upgrade for ONLY $4.99!

    There’s nothing immature about the existing technology of a book. Piling glitter and chocolate sauce on it doesn’t actually improve anything. Without understanding of content–which almost no technical person has, though most seem to think they do–new technology is just this year’s make-your-own-adventure book. There’s a reason nobody over the age of 12 reads them.

  2. Linton Robinson

    I agree with Keith on some points here.
    The idea that creativity flows from restrictions is a powerful one, not always understood. I originally encountered it in a book of essays by Tolstoy. Invention springs from necessity.

    I also agree with the “chocolate sauce” idea and have wondered from the beginning if videos and soundtracks are really going to make it as book contents–and if so, how long before the line between novels and video games disappears.

    On the other hand, I think it’s important to be aware of and explore the technology of format is important, especially in an age in which format is progressing faster and more glamorously than content.

    Because format has a big influence on content, makes things possible. There were no novels before the printing press. It’s just not something that would have occurred. Newspapers made serial novels possible… there would have been no reason to do such a thing before. Mass paperbacks generated entire realms of content that wouldn’t make sense as expensive hardbacks. There is a lot of extremely exciting content being generated today as web serials and podcasts. Some is finding its way into print, some is dependent on the format.

    There is always a co-evolutionary aspect between art and technology–you can’t build rose windows unless somebody developed a glass factory, or paint flowers with charcoal sticks. There are barriers, and there are channels. Hills, dams, and levies contribute to what a river looks like on a map, or photograph, but what really defines the river is the channel itself–and the channel was created by the action of the river.



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