What will the ebook of the future look like, say in 5 or 10 years? It certainly won’t look like today’s ebooks, the majority of which vary from dreadful to solidly mediocre. Is there one ePub book that actually looks good? And I mean good in the sense that a finely printed book looks good? I don’t know, but I haven’t seen one.
When television became a mass market item, TV sets were small screens inside big wooden pieces of furniture. Some had doors that closed to hide them. In New York City you could get three channels. Reception was by way of an antenna on top of the TV or, for the adventurous, on top of your house. The gangly telescoping arms of the set-top antenna—the “rabbit ears”—needed to be angled and pointed just right to get a decent picture.
And that decent picture was pretty much the way ebooks look today: flat, gray, frequently crappy, and sometimes with lines running through it, like the big rivers of white space in ebooks and the misaligned type that’s pretty common today.
Eventually the big wooden boxes disappeared, and the screens got bigger. Everyone thought they were pretty modern. There were no doors any more, the TV stood on a wooden stand or on the iron rods that served as legs of a lot of furniture in the 1960s.
Color on televisions was as much a shock as the first movies with sound must have been. The color was awful, of course, but it didn’t matter. Having watched everything for years in black and white, people were deliriously happy with color, any color at all. Could the world get any better?
Soon enough cable TV came along, and with it reliably good pictures that weren’t ruined by a storm. And remote controls. The first remotes were wired to the cable box but one day the cords disappeared, and millions of family fights about whose turn it was to get up and change the channel were ended forever.
Sixty Years of Standardized Innovation
Television became commercial about sixty years ago. Back then each regional market was dominated by a different manufacturer with their own technology, and none of it worked together. Today you can walk into a store anywhere in the United States and buy a 52″ flat screen monitor, hang it on the wall and be confident that when you turn it on you’ll have access to hundreds of stations in brilliant high def.
Television manufacturers and standards committees have worked to bring the buying public the appliances and services it wants, simply and efficiently.
Ten years from now, what will we see in e-books, which seem sure to be a major part of the book market by that time?
- Beautiful typography?
- Books that can be bought anywhere, read anywhere, shared with anyone?
- Screens you can tap anywhere to instantly link to resources about that particular passage?
- Screens that can be read in broad daylight as well as in the dark?
- A button that reads the book to you in your choice of voices?
- Subscription services like cable to replace the buy-every-title-yourself distribution model?
- “Books” or “Texts” or “Programming”?
- User manuals and how-to products that are largely video content with a small text component?
- Non-stop access to your social network during the reading experience, complete with micro-sharing of all the content you are consuming?
- Instant connectivity to every point of contact established by the author?
- “Books” that are more compilations of resources drawn together by algorithms responding to your request?
- Text-like experiences that allow you to be content creator, not just content consumer?
- Second-generation touch gestures, like circling the text you’re reading and being presented with options for a summary, a clipping service, a forward button?
- The ability to merge texts from different “publishers” to create your own mashup?
- Or . . .?
What are you looking for in the ebook you’ll be reading in 2020?