How Will Publishers Humanize the Ebook?

The delectable scent of fresh pages, the curious art of the dust jacket, the weight of a title in our hands—how will the ebook ever measure up to its sliced-tree ancestor?

The immediate and obvious answer is it can’t—there is no nostalgic substitute for ‘curling up with our favorite (paper) book’.

But that’s certainly not an answer future readers will accept as we enter the age of digital reading.

Ebooks must offer a Proustian experience equal to if not better than that of traditional books. The publishers who pick up on this will be the ones who stay in business.

Smart, Good Looking and Charming

Smart, good looking and charming are qualities that attract us to potential partners. Ebooks should be no different in how they attract readers.

Gadgets like the Kindle and iPhone give ebooks a platform to be smart. They remember your page, let you take notes and make it easy for you to download books instantly.

The iPad takes it one step further by giving ebooks a platform to be beautiful. Publishers no longer are constrained by blah grayscale artwork (Kindle) or a tiny screen the size of our palm (iPhone).

E-reader apps will soon be charming us by transforming the act of reading into something deeply engaging and personalized. These apps will know exactly what we want and how we want to hear it based on what they learn about us.

How many publishers are paying attention to this? How many are busy fighting the price war crusades?

It’s Still Early…

If we compare the invention of the ebook to the invention of Gutenberg printing press, then it’s safe to say we’re still tadpoles.

It took several hundred years for printed books to become commonplace. During this time bookmaking blossomed into the art form we now cherish.

Ebooks are still a novelty—the technology that powers them is outpacing and overshadowing those small but important craft details that make printed books so humanized: rich artwork, colophon, bookshelves, used book stores, the freedom to share them with friends, etc.

…but Time Will Tell

Half the remedy for readers totally smitten with the printed book is having the patience for publishers to catch up to the aesthetic wisdom of the Apples and Amazons of the world.

The other half are publishers willing invest their energy into extracting the deeper value of the ebook. It’s more than just spreading ideas at low cost replication, convenience and portability—let’s not forget the printing press offered this as well.

When this value proposition is made clear, then publishers will have smarter, better looking and more charming platforms of their own.

Photo by Aaron Burden.