Future books: Anchored in print, enhanced by the digital

Remy Varga

Thanks to technology, the printed book takes on a new format on the portable small screen.

Thanks to technology, the printed book takes on a new format on the portable small screen.

Nick Davies

Nick Davies

Penguin celebrates 80 years with its Little Black Classics in print or in digital.

Penguin celebrates 80 years with its Little Black Classics in print or in digital.

Penguin is celebrating its 80th birthday by releasing the Little Black Classic series on its USA website. The Little Black Classics are a selection of 80 books featuring acclaimed authors such as Gerard Manly Hopkins and Hans Christian Anderson.

The website is characterised by a unique and interactive interface. There is a penguin inside a circle. When you press the penguin, it rolls around the rim. The penguin rolls much like a wheel of fortune. When it settles, a quote appears from one of the 80 classics. Significantly, the books are available for purchase online, directly downloadable from the website to your ereader of choice.

This a big move for a company – and industry – traditionally resistant to the digital world. Nicole Armanno is currently the Customer Care Contact Officer at Australian eBook Publisher. Prior to this, she worked for six years in sales for Penguin.

In regard to the Little Black Classics launch, Ms Armanno says Penguin has obviously recognised that it has “to get on board with the program”.

It’s not just the platforms launching ebooks that are evolving, ebooks themselves are becoming more interactive. Enhanced ebooks, termed enhanced ePub or ePub3, come with embedded audio and/or video.

Apple also has its own version, called iBook. Currently, Apple is the only reliable vendor that supports video. Kobo and Google Play are currently developing their own enhanced ebooks. All of the ereaders on the market can theoretically support enhanced ebooks. However, the industry is still very much in experimental stages.

Ms Armanno says, “The technology is there and the creativity and the ideas are ready to go. However, it’s really vendor dependent. So at this moment only Apple iTunes is supporting that type of enhanced epub.”

However, what is revolutionary about the ebook is how it alters the dynamic between the reader and the publisher. Nicole Armanno says, “Amazon has set the model, and it’s not an agency model, it’s a model where pretty much the price was set by the consumer; consumers have really had a large impact on prices of ebooks internationally. They know what they’ll pay and they know what they won’t pay.”

They also have more control over readership and accessibility, with publishers attempting to reconnect with readers through digital means. Penguin Random House released an interactive discovery focused website on the 22 April.

As these interactive interfaces grow and become more engaging, more readers will go digital. Amanda Greenslade, Director of the Australian E Book Publisher, says, “I think there’s always going to be a mix of both digital and print, but the difference between the two is going to narrow, so you’ll get more people taking up digital than there are presently.”

However, even with these exciting new features, it would be foolish to assume that we are entering a purely digital world. Susan Wyndham, Literary Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, does not think ebooks are a major threat to printed books. “It seems to me that the release of all these classics in print has really been appealing to people who love to have a beautiful book on their shelf. I think that it will continue, so I see it just as a another strand of classic publishing which is a great thing, but not at all a replacement.”

Michael Gordon-Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Publishers Association, says, “It appears that ebooks are more like an additional technology rather than a replacement technology. So it’s not like a compact disc replacing vinyl, it’s more like television adding to radio.”

So perhaps ebooks are enhancements or extensions of the traditional reader experience. Mathieu Triay, designer of the Little Black Classic interactive interface, says, “I think the future of publishing is anchored in the physical world, but can definitely be enhanced by digital means. Ultimately though, it’s up to the publishers to put together a way for their readers to discover and access this new form of content. Taking advantage of the possibilities of digital is a real challenge, albeit a thrilling one.”