Are Artists Really Best Equipped to Blaze Trails in the Enhanced E-Book Market? Are Publishers?
Publishers have been too slow to enter the enhanced book market, according to Harold Moss, Creative Director at FlickerLab,* an animation studio and enhanced e-book production house. He was speaking at the New York Foundation for the Arts last week about digital publishing.
As technological innovation speeds along at a dizzying pace, he suggested filmmakers and artists are the ones best equipped to develop innovative new models for making enhanced e-books. Up for grabs is the opportunity to revolutionize enhanced e-books themselves, but not just in terms of content and in scope. “Hack into existing expectations and marketplaces,” he said.
E-books today fall short of exploiting the exciting and (relatively) new graphical and animated capabilities as well as the storage and computing capacities of servers that we access from our tablets. E-book creators really can and should be doing a lot more to expand e-book structure – the reader is capable of doing more than flipping the page. What Moss calls for is artists to experiment, to invent something new.
Enhanced e-book text and information need not be fixed to “pages” or even static – computers are capable of accommodating far more interesting and smarter texts. So while there will always be a place for singular stories in fiction and poetry, Moss argued, children’s books, textbooks, historical texts and nonfiction, which are often created and read for educational purposes and to tell multifaceted stories, can help us learn better with more dynamic information.
Notable exceptions to these assertions include Penguin’s success with its “Amplified & Enhanced” imprint, especially Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Touch Press’s enhanced edition of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland (for iPad), both titles that incorporate a variety of media into their respective environments, and contextualize their central, seminal works (which, Moss emphasizes, ensure success in the enhanced e-book marketplace).
But most exciting are new types of enhanced e-books and apps being developed by filmmakers and programmers. He cited Theodore Gray, founder of “computational knowledge engine” Wolfram Alpha, who created the early iPad tour-de-force The Elements. But the app/Oscar-winning short film/book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore also comes rather immediately to mind.
Hesitation on the part of publishers is understandable. Innovation will necessitate a variety of risks, especially financial ones: Enhanced e-books require (costly) teams of developers who can script, write, design, animate, and code collaboratively; or hiring a vendor that can do all those things. This form of change can be distressing too – Moss suggests nothing short of a re-imagining of how book publishing works and what it does.
But this, the second presentation of Moss’s talk, titled “Enhanced E-Books: A New Art Form,” was sold out. And the audience of filmmakers, artists, designers, editors, writers, composers, librarians, small press publishers and technologists, each of whom seemed to have an urgent question about how to get started, attests to the diverse nature and range of skill sets of those invested in looking forward.
What I think Moss really gets right here when he suggests we’re on the verge of reinventing the book (and therefore publishing) is that he isn’t just talking about a unilateral transference of power from old publishing houses to individual writers, Kindle Singles or iBooks Author – he’s suggesting a collective and collaborative future for publishing, one we’ll have to come up with together.
The takeaway? Experimentation and leaps of faith are expensive, especially to those who support heavy infrastructures. But they will only get pricier as competition grows.
*tag line: “Animating the World Since 1999”