Digital Reading: Renaming the (Digital) Book

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Speaking of user experience—we haven’t yet discovered the word that will describe the digital, transmutable, readable, platform-agnostic, weightless, immersive, elastic … creation, hitherto known as a book. We should hurry up and get this naming process started.

Why should we find a new term? Because while we were busy discussing agency pricing and distribution of digital books, the proliferation of end products that are more or less like books continued apace. Now we have e-books, of course; but we also have enhanced e-books, book apps, Google books, iBooks, Kindle books, and online books. This is in addition to audio books and various editions of books printed on sheets of paper and bound. Some of these literary products are illustrated, animated, interactive, collaborative, updatable and/or editable. And in every case, we call them books. I call it confusing.

We spend a lot of time wondering if one of these creations is or is not a book. We worry that if we read, use, or buy more of one kind of book we’ll hasten the demise of another kind of book. As David Wilk of Booktrix wrote about my favorite subject in his blog, “what will emerge over the next few years is an explosion of digital reading technology.  And with that will come an explosion of creativity, as publishers, authors and technologists try to imagine what the digital reading experience can and should mean to readers.” Maybe what’s standing in the way of real innovation is the word “book,” so let’s ditch it, or at least reserve it for printed works on paper.

Why is this a UX issue? Because inevitably our use will determine the definition of the word “book” and whatever new words come up. We want to move past the “is it or isn’t it?” phase. We want to know what we mean when we say “book,” and know what we mean when we say [insert new moniker here].

At last month’s Book^2 Camp, the high-relevance unconference organized by Kat Meyer of O’Reilly, Ami Greko of Kobo and Chris Kubica of Neverend Media, we got the conversation started in a short brainstorming session. When an idea springs up, I figured, better to pounce upon it immediately before it gets away. Our Renaming Group was divided into those who thought we didn’t need a new name at all (so why join the group?) and those who were willing to consider new names. We talked about history, linguistics and usage. Then we started making lists.

Elemental, linguistic: readee, wordup, brainer, knowie, pagey, leeb; bix; dex
Combo: wordea, eyebook, eyedea, thinkdex, newbk
Historical, ironical: caxton (look it up), foliex, edsel, kobo (yes, it could happen)
Techie: masterdoc, rootext, hypertome, alphavol

One keen participant observed that the new word should describe the literary, intellectual kernel, which was preserved digitally and is essentially the same no matter what final expression it takes. How about Bkernel? Bseed? Or maybe Ip (for intellectual property)?

Why should we hurry up? Because, as Chris Kubica said, “We do need a new word for ‘book’…but it will take decades to catch on (if ever).” And, as David Wilk wrote, “Maybe until a perfect new term like ‘blog’ is coined by someone, we’ll be stuck with ‘e-book’ even as the range of what is possible to be written, made, displayed, read and consumed expands exponentially.” Since it will take a long time, let’s get a jump on finding that perfect term.

We know from experience, and from that “Seinfeld” episode about eating a Snickers bar with a knife and fork, that ideas can go viral—we just have to get the contagion going. Everybody think, now.

Anne Kostick

About Anne Kostick

Anne is a UX fan girl and a partner in Foxpath IND , specializing in the transition to and from traditional content publishing and online content development, management, and publishing. Her clients include trade book publishers; technology and financial services websites; and arts and cultural institutions. Her occasional column, Digital Reading, discusses user experience and related topics in ebooks and digital reading. Anne is emerita president of Women’s Media Group, an industry organization, program director of the Digital Book Awards and a member of BEA Conference Advisory Board. She is the author of several books for children and a definitive collection of jokes.

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16 thoughts on “Digital Reading: Renaming the (Digital) Book

    • Very ’30s SciFi (“Watch out! He’s carrying an Elexitron!”). I think the word of the future book will be short–maybe this would shorten to just ‘lex,’ and make plenty of linguistic sense that way, too.

  1. I understand your argument, but I’m keen to stick with ebooks (e-books, Ebooks). Why? Well, “blog” is short for weblog. “Email” is short for electronic mail. Both have become familiar words in the English vocabulary – and quite quickly. Although there certainly needs to be clarification around the definition of ‘”enhanced ebooks” and “book apps”. Both utilise convergent media, but there is still much consumer confusion in relation to their findability. (I’ll use Nick Cave’s novel “The Death of Bunny Munro” again as an example of this.) To me it seems obvious to define book apps as those requiring internet to access/view the content. It would be great if all enhanced ebooks only had embedded content to solidify this point of difference.

  2. Many interesting ideas. We use “read” as a noun and verb to refer to a number of things already (“a good read”; “you should read this”), but I like the fact that ultimately, the point is to refer to something of semantic value that the person making the reference thinks should be read, or might interest somebody who’s reading the very words that direct them to this other, “read.” And it retains the virtue mentioned here-and-there above about the elegance of a single syllable. Since in our technological environment, links are now virtually always utilized, the nature of the read (“blog,” “e-book,” etc.) will become immediately apparent once the link is clicked on.

    • I like “read” as a noun and a replacement for “book” where we don’t necessarily mean printed and bound pages. Right now I’m immersed in a great read: “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell. It happens to be printed on paper. Then I need to get going on another read for my book club: “Pym” by Mat Johnson. This read is digital, via Kindle, on my desktop app.

      Hey, it works! Bring on the digital reads!

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