E-Book Excitement

tool theme for publishingpioneer

It is uncomfortable and even dangerous to be on the bleeding edge of communication development. In 2002, I produced my first e-book, Ways of Wisdom for Women, delivered via CD. There were audio books as CDs then, but mine was one of the first visually-designed e-books.

Set up for the reader to print only desired pages, the interactive structure allows clicking through the depth of pages much like a website. I even bought a new laptop to demonstrate!

With great enthusiasm, I secured a booth at Women’s Leadership Exchange. 500 professional women marched past my display at McCormick Place in Chicago. They gingerly choose the print books but their eyes glazed over when approached with a technologically-enhanced version!

Dismayed, I tried National Association of Women Owned Businesses. Same reaction. Then I tried Chicago Women in Publishing (perhaps writers would see the potential?). Same reaction! Why did no one but me think of this new form as über-cool?

Licking my wounds and recommitting to paper, I kept returning to my e-projects like a gambler to the casino. My craving would not go away no matter how many creative pages hit the printing press!

Attending Book Expo, publishers promoting e-books were banned to the edges of the exhibit floor—almost hidden behind curtains! Several mainstream publishers were just starting to incorporate CDs in the back of their books—carrying photos, resources, and templates.
But mostly the professionals have avoided interactive media. Because so few have any understanding or experience.

Today Kindle is saving dollars and shelf space for the avid reader. It might even inspire more reading from those who meet the initial price tag. When the device becomes cheaper, it will become pervasive. Does the device need to come before content delivery?

Optimistically venturing forward, I have a new e-book ready to release. Speaking to educational institutions and women’s business groups, I still take my old CD with the books, and I still get the same reactions as I did in 02.

So why do I like e-books as reader and creator?

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian 1. Extends the page—you can read on several levels and go into more depth per choice. It is a new way to read—controlling the screen, organizing multiple choice structures, and experiencing interactive features. The visual flexibility and expansion inspires new design techniques and image treatments.

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian2. Link to sources and related sites. If a book has examples, there can be links to those examples, providing greater content access through convenient choices. Like the hub of a wheel, the e-book carries additional content supporting the central presentation of the author.

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian3. Integrates animation, sound, and video. The combinations are endless and research sketchy. Video is becoming more prevalent, but viewer choice seems to prefer text for scanning content versus in-depth reading. New video postings are now carrying qualifiers to lure viewers: “it only takes two minutes to view…,” they plead.

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian4. Reader controls the viewing experience and will print only chosen pages—the content must motivate this action—such as instructions or inspirations or techniques. Most e-publications will not get printed, so the reader needs to have a good access system if they wish to revisit the text.

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian5. Energy efficient—less paper and shelving space needed. In fact, there is very little that I print out any more. Most projects are proofed digitally. Although I enjoy having the physical books around me, to have the convenience and efficiency balances.

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian6. Portable—device can carry books like my Ipod carries music. This means having a library at my fingertips. As long as the batteries are charged, I am in business! It is especially convenient for people who travel a lot.

In addition to what I like about e-books, there are disadvantages to this medium:

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian1. Progress is tough to gauge—when are you done reading? E-books offer a new way to read and perceive. They ask the reader to make the leap graphic designers had to: just like a web site is never done, the e-book might never be completely “read.” What is ‘complete’? If I read a book on business management and it links to 40 sources, then I can follow what each source has to offer with one click. Ten years later, I’m not “done.” There is no sense of accomplishment like closing the back cover, perhaps intending a short list of resources to look up.

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian2. Can’t write in it. There is great involvement in being able to annotate, highlight, and make notes. These simple manual tasks can be done onscreen, but not easily or spontaneously. Even cutting and pasting portions to review takes work, organization, storage, and retrieval processes. But now that books are treated more like music files, the visual side will advance with memory and speed; there will be more to keep track of.

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian3. Eye and scroll strain—this is where designers and editors are needed most. What are the optimum layouts, navigation, and visual treatments? For those who think a little scrolling is okay, think again! Those prone to tired eyes are cautious about reading long exposes. Text set up for scanning is best.

tools of the trade by Liane Sebastian4. Market perception is that e-books are free.
Most writers don’t find marketing e-books worthwhile for income. They use them as vehicles to promote sales of physical books, subscriptions, products, or services–with fees attached. E-books in themselves have not carved out a market that uses their features to best create a reader demand.

Fundamentally changing the very notion of what it means to read is evolving. The linear, finite, tactile quality of the physical book is as much a part of the experience as the content, like an adventure map. The e-book becomes a more efficient delivery, like a guide. It needs to be thought of as differently as soy milk from regular milk. If you compare the former to the latter, you will be disappointed. If you approach soy milk as a new drink experience, you are rewarded.

Through participating in professional groups and reading business blogs, perceptions are’t changing. In fact, E-books are being relegated to glorified business cards that only give away enough information to entice response–not an end in themselves. Witness:
• Authors better known than me have only sold a few hundred e-book downloads per title.
• Amazon has limited opportunity with releases requiring an ISBN number, a print model.
• Authors use e-books promotionally to sell services, memberships, reservations, or subscriptions.
• Sharing the free book is encouraged. When the download is free, the relationship with the audience is more casual. Asking them to share is free advertising.
• Kindle uploads are opening new possibilities.

Can you answer these questions:
1. What do you like/not like about reading e-books?
2. What holds back audience acceptance?
3. Do you use e-books as an end in themselves or as a promotional tool?

Please share your options. E-mails are great, but comments are greater. Conversation on the direction of new publishing media is crucial to its effective use. We make those definitions through gathered experience.

Liane Sebastian, illustrator, designer, writer, and publishing pioneer


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2 Responses to “E-Book Excitement”

  1. wisdomofwork Says:

    This exploration has spawned a discussion in my Nonprofit Publishing LinkedIn Group http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=1825096&trk=anetsrch_name&goback=%2Egdr_1235923365634_1. If you are not included, please apply! It is open to nonprofit managers, board members, and suppliers. We explore issues that are helping to redefine communication effectiveness.–Liane

  2. Elijah Weber Says:

    If only more than 91 people would hear about this.

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