Next-Gen eBooks

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Every year, we look forward to the end of October, when the Vancouver Writers' Festival brings a diverse group of interesting and entertaining writers to town. During this six-day celebration of writing and reading, we get to reconnect with old friends and colleagues, meet new authors, and enjoy a variety of literary events, readings, and interviews.

With so many events to choose from, "The Tangled Web," featuring Martha Baillie, Arjun Basu, and Kate Pullinger, was one session we knew we didn't want to miss. Its focus was the interplay between print books and digital applications, and we've always had a keen appreciation for unique extensions of the book format (with especially fond memories of Raincoast's best-selling distributed title, Teach Your Cat to Read).

In a discussion on books and their corresponding digital expressions, there was, naturally, a question from the audience about eBooks. What did the authors think of them? What kind of impact have they had? They had some interesting opinions.

Pullinger feels that, in their current form, eBooks are simply adjuncts to print books. At this point, there's nothing "value added" about them, other than their convenient portability. In short, they're first generation and really in their infancy in terms of their possibilities. Basu agreed, comparing the transition from paper to eBook to the move from radio to TV, with early television shows having "talking heads" reading from radio plays.

While this does raise some interesting speculation about the evolution of eBooks, and it might in part explain why eReader sales have plateaued, eBooks are still a great way for self-published authors to get their work out there, without the prohibitive cost of printing. We definitely look forward to seeing what the future of digital publishing looks like, and there is some very clever thinking already being done in this area (check out "10 Projects that Enhance Print Books with Technology"). In the meantime, we're thinking Teach Your Cat to Read might just warrant a digitally enhanced follow-up: Teach Your Cat to Text. Now that's progress!