Every time I buy a new non-fiction eBook, I'm amazed at how little publishers are taking advantage of the new eReader platform. I'm not talking about audio or video augmentation but rather, publishers don't consider how the reader interacts with the book's content. Simple things like, why include a 2200 pixel image in an eBook where it will be scaled down into an unreadable screen image or hyperlinks that aren't clickable?
Books last went through a major content structure change in the 15th century when cutting edge technology like pages, page numbers, indexes, and header/footers were introduced as an improvement over scrolls. Today, we are taking the same 15th century technology and simply moving it to a new 21st century reading platform.
Movies went through the same transition as the first movies were merely filmed plays. The art evolved dramatically and today's movies bear little resemblance to those first films. Books will likely go through a similar metamorphosis.
That metamorphosis of books could be greatly enhanced if some of the content usability research, driven by web and mobile content delivery needs, were applied to eBooks. Much of this research focuses on maintaining context within content and with the reader's interaction with the content. As touch-enabled eReaders like Kindle Fire become more commonplace, it is imperative that the publisher look beyond the layout of the content and more at the user interaction with the content itself. Content layout is still very important, but it is one link in the chain.
I grimace when I see posts about adding more alternative content to books when the basic content interactions aren't yet fully fleshed out, in my opinion! When someone discusses audio tracks in fiction, it reminds me of pop-up ads in the first GeoCities websites. I feel that these musical additions are distractions rather than improvements to the interaction. Besides, I'd rather choose my own music. Social Distortion, anyone?
For non-fiction eBooks, content navigation and context awareness are key for the reader. Feedback from students testing out Kindle based textbooks illustrated we are more dependent on the 15th century techniques than first thought. We do use headers and page numbers as guides to determine where we are in the book. However, this same group also reads content on the web without the same issues. Therefore, it behooves us to look at the web/mobile content techniques for applicability in eBooks.
Fiction tends to work well in eBook format due to its linear nature. However, it would be great if I could hover over a character's name and get a synopsis of who they are. Sometimes, I forget where a minor character came in and the relationship to others. There are so many things that are possible and we'll get there in time.
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