But that's what digital does!!

I worked with Peter Costanzo back when all this digital technology was a glimmer in Amazon's eye (a bit of an exaggeration, but someday they will be seen as the proto-digital days of books) so I'm interested in hearing what he has to say and what he's up to. After all he is one of the people leading the charge to make digital trade books better.

And know that he's working at F+W media with a very talented team and offering a behind-the-scenes look over at Digital Book World, I had to go over and read the article.

As interesting and enlightening as it was to see the sausage-making of digital books, there were two points I had an issue with.

The first point is just worrisome:
But here’s the thing (and why I personally have a love/hate relationship with eBooks). These enhanced versions of the Everything Learning Language books do look great, especially when the font is set to an average size. Make that font larger or smaller and all hell can break loose! If only we publishers could be present at those very moments to say to readers, “Stop, please, don’t do that, can’t you see it was perfect just the way you had it?!?” But alas, we cannot. However, thoughtful planning (and lots of programming) can go a long way to prevent most breakdowns in formatting… within reason.

As publishers and writers we don't have control over the text! We need to stop thinking like this! It will only hurt us in the long run if we continue to thing about a set page size. Want to make an e-book make sure it looks good on everything from a phone screen to an e-reader to a regular sized monitor. It's what web designers have been doing for years and there are several studies out there that argue against this kind of backwards thinking of controlling the reader. We don't. Which is why it's so important to institute quality assurance in the process of designing e-books. Something that I know Colleen Cunningham and her crew over at Adams Media are thinking about.

Oh, and lots of programming? Compared to what? Most formatting issues should be able to be handled with CSS and HTML, no programming needed (unless you're automating production, in which case, there's also lot of proofing of output.

And yes I'm a little over-sensitive about this issue in particular, since it sends up a red flag to me that the industry isn't really looking at this as a digital creation but as an offshoot of print. E-books are not the same as mass-markets where you can shrink the text and cut the margins. You need to do more!

The second point in Peter's article that got me was this line of thinking about interactivity:

Yes, we could’ve spent the programming time to include a JavaScript pop-up that would allow for some kind of entry field, but at what cost? And for which device?

I understand the real issue here- how can we make e-books interactive and still profitable? But the way the question is raised points to something else. Something very important for publishers to understand. There is not one e-book. You need to design to the device. iBooks, Kindle, Nook, Adobe Digital Editions all render things differently and have different levels of interactivity. You can not make one version and pass it off to all vendors. That's print, not digital. For a successful digital book you need to design for graceful degradation. Like a web site that handles HTML5 and IE6, e-books need to be developed the same way.

So, what do we learn? E-books are hard. E-book require more than a conversion of print into bits (and I want to emphasis Peter and Adams Media are at the forefront of this emerging way of reading, so if they are struggling with these issues, we're all struggling with these issue.) But the real highlight for me in the article is the Voltaire-ism that has become a mantra of web design and something I try to repeat as often as possible to my publishing students- Perfect is the enemy of good enough.

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