There is a bit of a debate going on right now about whether ebook sales are falling, or still rising, whether ebooks are a good development for publishers, or a dead-end. That the debate is going on at all is a reflection of the fact that the industry is being as badly led as that of the newspaper and magazine industries.
No, ebook sales are not falling, they are just falling for the group of major publishers who have increased the price of their ebooks. Yes, ebooks are a good thing as it makes more books available to more readers and without the cost of printing and distribution.
But the publishing industry is being ill-served by their trade associations, their trade magazines and by those in the technology area responsible for improving digital publications.
Take ebook publishing platforms. The advancement of ePub3 is taking place at a glacial pace, while the device platform creators such as Apple, Amazon and Google are doing nothing to create cross-platform standards that will lead to better ebooks.
Most ebooks, those that represent the vast majority of sales, are pretty bad. But because they are mostly plain text, fonts can be adjusted so that reading is at least not as painful as the typical digital magazine or e-newspaper. Advancements are slow, so slow that many of those who thought they would by now only be reading ebooks have returned to discover the joy of print. And why not, print is great, having 576 years to have perfected the medium.
It is possible to create a great ebook, of course. I always point to The Mozart Project and The World Atlas of Wine as examples of good digital publishing. Both use the iBook Author platform but unless one is reading on a standard size iPad or a Mac, both with have their reading experience degraded by the fact that the publishing platform is less than ideal for creating equally great ebooks for reading on an iPhone, and not at all for reading on a Kindle.
It is hard to see where the big breakthrough is going to come from. Apple, under the leadership of CEO Tim Cook, feels far less interested in intellectual pursuits such as publishing, the pressures of meeting earnings forecasts being paramount. Amazon has a vested interest in maintaining its position as the number one retail outlet for both print and digital books, why would they want to create a platform that improves the medium on its competitor’s devices?
That leaves Google who has the Android platform and has proven to be an excellent app maker – most of its iOS apps are better than the equivalent app made by Apple. (How many of your Apple apps are stored away in an Apple folder so they don’t take up room on your home screen?)
Yesterday Google issued an update for Google Play Books, the default book reading app on its own Android devices, but an app that has little traction on iOS. Unlike the company’s other apps, Google Play Books gets fairly poor marks from users and some of the strangest reviews inside iTunes. The most recent review says “Very interesting older editions for the Catholic who relishes visiting in the last century; the theology of the Churches as to how it was, is now and every shall be…!” If you know what that means let me know.
The new update adds a feature that at first sounds of value, but isn’t: the ability to go full width while in landscape mode. This simply takes the page on the left side and expands it to full screen, though because the page would have been designed for portrait it ends up cutting off the bottom half. It is really a faster way to pinch-to-zoom, a feature not available in standard ebooks. So, yes, it is nice, but what it really does is compensate for the fact that ebooks (and in particular digital comics) are poorly designed for their digital devices when the page design is more complex than plain text.
I still await Google getting serious about digital publishing because I cannot see who else will move things forward.
reposted with permission from Talking New Media