Rethinking the ebook
ebook is an odd term.
Sure, the idea of an electronic book is intuitive in its purest form. You share an author’s words online in a pleasantly readable form instead of printing them onto paper, binding them, and shipping them to a warehouse. That definition is very limiting, though. The technologies which make ebooks possible are multimedia storytelling platforms, where words are only one part of the experience. Imagine you could tell the same stories – with the same exact words – and make the experience so much richer than the traditional words-and-pictures way we execute a story idea in book form. Whether you want to be informed, entertained, diverted, or excited, the possibilities of an ebook expand dramatically when you think of it as an expressive medium rather than the mere digitization of thousands of words. Even the tasks change. You shift from “writing a book” to perhaps “immersing the audience”, with words as one of the many tools at the storyteller’s disposal. Present Tense LLC has decided to test some ideas on crafting new digital experiences designed for the phone and the tablet, and secondarily, for the more conventional Kindle-style e-reader. To select the themes and design for this “ebook” medium, we are trying to stay within these guidelines:
Episodic content: Our hypothesis is that non-fiction books designed for a digital platform should have shorter chapters on a wider range of topics/perspectives under one narrative theme. This is more appealing than one long narrative and should encourage skipping around rather than obligating someone to read a book from beginning to end to enjoy it.
Phone compatible: The apps are there, and if a book looks good on a phone, it will look good on anything. Episodic content with short stories and chapters will also make it more practical and pleasant for someone to enjoy this kind of experience on a phone. Our books may even have scroll bars instead of page numbers, to send better cues on length and to encourage skipping around rather than a sequential experience.
Multimedia content: We may not integrate video right away, but plan to include short audio clips to introduce or enhance different sections. Over time, we can envision the non-fiction “book” morphing into something which is part TED talk, part glossy magazine, part radio broadcast, part vlog, and of course, part book.
Very creative layout: Why shouldn’t books look like magazines, with bold layouts and high-resolution images and photos? Of course the answer is they should as long as the layout serves the material well.
Innovative marketing: In a way, these books and our approach to selling them will have more in common with a music album than a book. The books will have promotional videos. We may even issue some chapters as singles prior to launching the entire book, much as books used to appear in serial form. The marketing will also take advantage of dedicated social media to find and tap into the micro-niches that exist for nearly every topic you can imagine, no matter how mass or esoteric.
Scalability and affordability: Everything described above sounds expensive, like a massive coffee table book scrunched into a smartphone screen. Some books already exist in this format. But is there a way to make this format have more of a mass appeal rather than a premium or high-end one? If you believe that today’s readers – especially non-fiction readers – want to read in short bursts while relying on a mix of media sources every day, why shouldn’t they receive a more in-depth narrative in the same style? We are seeking a way to make these books meet the objectives above without costing too much.
Speed: This goes hand in hand with the previous points. We would like this format to be faster and more flexible than traditional publishing.
Our first release, due out in June 2016, will focus on blues music. Books on volunteering and on Americana will follow. And there may be more ideas if this platform achieves the appeal we hope it does. We look forward to hearing your ideas.
Frank Luby is co-founder and CEO of Present Tense LLC, a communications company dedicated to helping people express their ideas through better business storytelling. He co-authored the book “10/10: How to write business content that is memorable and effective” and was part of the team which translated and edited “Confessions of The Pricing Man” for author Hermann Simon. You can also follow Frank on Twitter: @FrankLuby