Digital Reading: Renaming the (Digital) Book
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.