Who Cares How You Read? Just Read.

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Who Cares How You Read? Just Read.There has been a lot of press lately about data that looks like it’s pointing to declining ebook sales and surging print sales. There has also been some chatter about the inferior experience of reading ebooks. The biggest point, though, that I think gets lost in some of the print book / ebook hullabaloo of the last few weeks is this: who cares how people read? Just read. Publish good books, find your readers, repeat.

Ok, fair point: I do have a vested interest in this game. I am an ebook developer. But more than that, I am someone who loves books. I started working in publishing because of a romantic idea of what books and the people who publish them are all about.

But I don’t apply that same romanticism to the business that I now work in, 20+ years on. I am excited that people are buying books—hardcover, trade paperback, mass market and ebooks. I like it when they read in apps, on e-ink devices, on their phones and desktops. I don’t care much if people get jazzed by the smell of paper (although I do think it’s a little weird).

I think there are certainly a lot of misconceptions about ebooks—that they can’t be nicely-designed, that they are worth less than print, that reading them is a “less-than” experience. None of these things are true. But they will become a self-fulfilling prophecy if publishers believe them and put little to no energy or creative attention into their digital publishing programs. Just like mass market paperbacks upended a staid publishing culture in the ‘30s, ebooks aren’t going anywhere and need to be a critical part of the publishing planning process.

And the cheers about the declining fortunes of ebooks utterly fail to consider the experiences of people with print disabilities for whom the ebook revolution represents so much potential. “Waxing poetically about your physical library of literary fiction is a vision of the Abled,” reads one comment on Craig Mod’s recent Future Reading article. Focus instead on making accessible ebooks that serve the entirety of your reading audience and publishers, and move on.

There is a lot of work to be done on the UX of e-reading—that fact I do not deny. Some of us are working constantly to make future-proof ebooks that are nice to look at and easy to consume despite the confusing proliferation of specs and devices. People like Peter Meyers are thinking about how we read and how that impacts the digital reading experience. (Ironically, I felt I needed to read Peter’s book in print, and it’s so nicely laid-out that I don’t regret it for a second.)

The truth is that there exists a wide variety of readers who want to read in a wide variety of ways. And there is work to do in navigation, annotation and presentation to address readers’ needs. Real typographic innovation in digital reading isn’t possible until robust hyphenation dictionaries are built in to the rendering engines. The reading ecosystems should pick up and render the rich navigational possibilities of EPUB3—a table of contents in addition to Landmarks and Page-List. A clear focus on user interaction with any content—notes, bookmarks, annotations, even scribbles!—has gone backwards since the high of the now-defunct Readmill app. Making these notes searchable, indexable, and shareable is fundamental to a healthy reading ecosystem.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is. The fact is that people don’t read anymore.”

Let’s prove Steve Jobs wrong. The difference between paper and pixels lies in our attitudes toward the medium. And it will change over time, just as people have gradually accepted paperback books.

Containers do matter. But don’t undermine the content. And most importantly, just read.


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3 thoughts on “Who Cares How You Read? Just Read.

  1. Zed Amadeo

    I’ve always felt fairly similarly. The format of a piece of writing doesn’t matter to me as much as whether people are still reading it. And it seems clear to me that people most definitely are still reading. I’ve only used an e-reader for a little over a year now, but I absolutely love it. I now find the feel of my Kindle in my hand as I flip through the pages of a book I’m enjoying just as satisfying as the feel of a physical book. What matters the most is the content, and I’m excited about the future of ebook development.

    Reply
  2. Cynthia Moore

    Hi, Laura, I had a newsletter article due for my grad class in publishing. I don’t usually use blogs for source material, but your article intrigued me. Although I am gaining a new appreciation for the eBook industry via my Fundamentals of E-Publishing course, your mention of romanticism sparked print books fan in me. Although I did poke some fun at eBook sales for third quarter, we all know that the game is not over yet, and it may even go for extra innings. My article based on yours is at:

    https://cohort11weeklynews.wordpress.com/2015/11/08/books-are-back-romanticism-lives/

    Reply
  3. Tim Johnson

    You are right, Laura! It’s like eating: we don’t all religiously eat a single foodstuff; imagine soup for every meal! It’s the writing that matters; how we consume it is almost irrelevant. I work at obooko.com where we distribute ebooks free of charge on behalf of authors in pdf, pub and kindle(mobi) formats. Our objective is to get people reading and keep them reading. Many of our members (we have over 600,000) are in countries where the cost of buying a printed book is prohibitive, so it makes sense to release work in as many formats as possible. Incidentally, the most popular format downloaded from our site globally is PDF but, because of smartphones, ePub is on the increase.
    http://www.obooko.com/

    Reply

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