Thursday, July 14, 2011

Biography of a Book

You’ve always read a biography in a book and probably wondering how a book gets into a biography. Well the question becomes more interesting when you try and answer not just the how; but where, what and when…. That’s quite a few questions.

Johannes Guttenberg would not have imagined, in 1440 that his innovation of publishing books through a printing press would be short lived for just 600 years. After all it took him 4000 years to replace his typeset imprints over the handwritten scripts on paper which first started sometime in the third millennium BC in Egypt.

Well that’s history, lets look at some numbers. Recently Amazon announced that they booked USD 16 million in revenues by selling ebooks as opposed to its USD 3 billion dollars in physical books. ebook sales which accounted for about 1.5% of the totals book sales in 2009 grew up to 5% in 2010. If these numbers seem so small what is the hue and cry about this ebook phenomena? Well that’s because this ebook phenomena started just 5 years back and iPad happened 2 years back and now you see so many more tablets coming; the Galaxy, the Playbook, Dell Streak and the list goes on. The impact of tablets in last 2 years has been big enough to approach the tipping point to ensure that the larger majority start adopting the technology without feeling intimidated by it.

While the way books are being presented changed, the way these books are written and represented in terms of experience has remained more or less the same. Until now. Early attempt has been to keep the experience of ebooks, as close to the real books as possible. This was good initially as they helped a lot of non techie people adopt this technology faster and see the other benefits faster. A regular tablet or eReader can hold over 3000 books and yet fit into your purse or you handbag. A larger section of the early adopters of this technology now argue that they need more interactivity and more features built into the conventional ebooks. Questions asked are: Can we watch a video in the cookery book which explains how an apple pie is baked or can we listen to the sweet music of bagpipe, played in the far Scottish islands? Well that’s now possible with the new generation ebooks. With the introduction of the ePub 3 standards these features are possible along with making ebooks available in all popular scripts other than the Roman script.

This is good rather encouraging for people who always want to learn and relate more to data and information or books in those genre. Scientific, Technical, Medical, Educational and books for visually challenged will be good. However what remains to be seen, their effects on the way people perform basic functions. Will adoption of these tablets incur any behavioral changes in reading habits and the way people consume information? A journalist, till late 1990s, used to go through tons of books and papers to research a particular topic. His understanding of that specific subject was remarkable, immaculate and unchallenged. Online research today has diluted this depth up to a large extent.

Well does that mean technology is not as good as we think it is?

Not really.

The adoption of new technology also increases the efficiency of any act done. In that process the expectation to excel or perform better also goes up and with faster turn around time the limiting factor still remains the human mind. An average human mind cannot go faster than its performance limit and technology can never replace the function of a human mind. The way a packet of cigarettes or a bottle of alcohol comes with its statutory warnings, so should a new technology device.

The advancement in ebook technology will take reading experience to a different level, it would probably limit a persons ability to imagine. An interesting novel creates a unique rendition in the minds of each reader. A person reading the Harry Potter series (before the movie was made) would imagine Harry, Arthur and Hermione in a specific avatar. With technology pushing you towards spoon-fed images, videos and audios under the interactive offerings will limit a person’s ability to imagine.

Even as we close the chapter of the new path breaking standards, ePub3, with so many new features, work has already begun on the next level of this format, ePub4. ePub4, though not as path breaking as its predecessor, will further enhance the features substantially. ePub3 however remains the standard to watch for and the key consideration for so many publishers who have been fence sitters in the digital revolution.

The ebook revolution is here to stay, but when will it completely displace the printed books is a question to be pondered upon. My take, it will last for another 20 years after which printed books would be a novelty for people to put in their living rooms.