Illustrated book designer enters the E-book conversation.
This week I attended a seminar in New York sponsored by the American Book Packagers Association entitled "Producing Electronic Books and Apps." The presentation was given by Josh Koppel, one of the founders of ScrollMotion, a developer of electronic reader and other mobile applications.
The small space was packed. The audience—all of whom fit snugly within the boomer generation—included some forward-thinking individuals who have already begun developing their own e-titles. But I suspect that most, including me, realize that they can no longer ignore the many news items about the successful "translation" of complex illustrated book design into e-book format.
Josh started his career in print publishing, and many of his present clients are illustrated book publishers. He was well-suited to speak to a group of print-publishing people, and I could see that everyone was gamely trying to keep up with him, and that he no doubt was already trying to keep technical explanations as rudimentary as possible.
Over the course of the presentation, most of the audience referred to the products Josh develops as e-books, while he called them apps. One brave soul finally asked him to define the two terms. It wasn't easy to provide a satisfactory explanation, and I noticed the sense of mild frustration that often occurs when print and digital mindsets try to communicate.
As I understood him, the key distinction between the two is interactivity. E-books, like their print forerunners, don't "do" things like move, speak, or connect to the Internet. Eventually, it became apparent that the audience understood e-book (just like book) to indicate something they develop, edit, design, produce, and publish. Josh, however, thinks of an app as software that brings his client's e-books to life on e-readers throughout the world.
When I got back to Massachusetts, I consulted Wikipedia for its definitions of these two terms. Here's what I found:
An electronic book (also e-book, ebook, digital book) is a text and image-based publication in digital form produced on, published by, and readable on computers or other digital devices. Sometimes the equivalent of a conventional printed book, e-books can also be born digital. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines the e-book as "an electronic version of a printed book," but e-books can and do exist without any printed equivalent. E-books are usually read on dedicated hardware devices known as e-Readers or e-book devices. Personal computers and some cell phones can also be used to read e-books.
Application software, also known as an application or an "app," is computer software designed to help the user to perform singular or multiple related specific tasks. It helps to solve problems in the real world.
Just like a printed book, an e-book can be excellent, lousy, or something in between. No matter what kind of book it is, the art we use to illustrate
our books is there to enhance the reader's experience, understanding, and enjoyment. While overuse of illustrations that move, speak, spin, or zoom obviously can push the e-book toward the "lousy" end of the spectrum, just as easily careful and judicious incorporation of this technology can help create great illustrated books, and I'm excited by that prospect.
PS: Throughout the seminar, a wide range of questions on electronic publishing were lobbed at our speaker, among them how to implement new business models for selling e-books, approaches to digital rights management, and affects on copyright law as applied to electronic media. I intend to address some or all of these in future blog posts.