The E-Book in 2020: What’s On Your Wishlist?

by | Jun 24, 2010

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?


tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Piotr Kowalczyk

    What will probably happen is that the flexible content of a book will look and behave excellent on ANY DEVICE. We’re now at the very beginning of the learning process but much sooner than in 10 years time designers like you Joel will make brilliant things with a metadata of a book – to give the maximum reading pleasure for anybody from any device.
    What I mean by metadata is (and this is partially written by my imagination):
    – recognition of a device/application
    – default formatting determined by device/application
    – animated book cover
    – reader related book cover (imagine that on a basis of what we know about the buyer/reader, out of a few covers written in a metadata we show the most proper one)
    – sync-to-cloud (will be much advanced than today)
    – embedding pictures, video, audio (obvious)
    – sharing&geolocation scripts
    – automatically generated extra content (ads/sponsors?)
    – text-to-speech + voice annotations modules
    – author-reader collaboration tools (I would love this to happen – imagine that the reader can write/add their “layer” to the book’s plot:-)

    It’s very probable, that the metadata will take more place than the actual content – seems like a lot of work to embrace all of it:-)

    • Joel Friedlander

      Yes, exactly, that’s what I was trying to get at with my “bought anywhere, read anywhere, share with anyone …”

      I originally found that video on your blog, Piotr, and posted it here in May. It’s an amazing vision! Thanks for that.

  2. Michael N. Marcus

    What I’d like is built-in dog repellant (for both pBooks and eBooks).

    When I’m reading in bed, my pooch often gets in my face, and drools on what I’m reading.

    With a pBook, the page gets a permanent pucker.

    With an eBook, I have to wipe the screen, which turns the page.

    • Linda

      Joel – I always enjoy your posts and articles – you inspire me to dream of maybe trying it myself one of these fine days.
      Michael – unusual idea – dog- repellant – love the thought of the page with a permanent pucker!

      • Joel Friedlander

        Linda, thanks so much for that. And sure, why not? If you have expertise, you can turn that into a book and let many more people profit from it. Love your blog header by the way, it’s lovely.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, maybe the dog’s jealous of the books? You seem to be pretty forgiving. Is it a bulldog?

  3. Mayowa

    Great post Joel.

    The only thing missing from your list is smell. Ebooks should give off that slightly musty book smell. Wouldn’t that be nice…

    • Joel Friedlander

      I like that idea, Mayowa, let’s add it to the list.



  1. Tweets that mention -- - [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by . said: [...]
  2. The E-Book in 2020: What's On Your Wishlist? — The Book Designer | trukos! - [...] View original post here: The E-Book in 2020: What's On Your Wishlist? — The Book Designer [...]
  3. Tweets that mention The E-Book in 2020: What’s On Your Wishlist? — The Book Designer -- - [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sara McQ, Joel Friedlander. Joel Friedlander said: The E-Book in 2020: What's…
  4. Blog Search » Blog Archive » The E-Book in 2020: What's On Your Wishlist? — The Book Designer - [...] See original here: The E-Book in 2020: What's On Your Wishlist? — The Book Designer [...]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.