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'Getting The Book Invented Properly' by Douglas Adams (video)

The video above was an entry in a recent contest. It didn’t win, but I think it should have.

The book blog The Literary Platform had a contest last month (I just heard of it today). They asked people to take a short audio clip and draw, animate, or otherwise create a video which went along with the narration. There were a number of entries, and the winner of the contest was picked last week on Towel Day (25 May).

I’m covering the contest after the fact because the audio clip stars the late Douglas Adams, author of the 5 book trilogy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He record this clip in 1992 for The Voyager Company, one of the early ebook producers, as part of their Expanded Books project.

Expanded Books was perhaps the very first attempt to develop enhanced ebooks. This was before my time, but I’m told the project did produce a number of titles including The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Complete Annotated Alice, Jurassic Park and The Tao of Pooh / The Te of Piglet, the last of which is still available on Amazon as a 3.5″ floppy disk.

The ebooks were built to run in Hypercard and included such amazing features as embedded audio and images, multiple font sizes, bookmarks, typed notes, search,  and what at the time was considered clever menu design. Voyager produced around 60 titles as well as a tool kit for authors and publishers to produce their own ebooks. According to the 1996 edition of The Art of Electronic Publishing, Voyager sold the ebooks for $20 each, with some multi-volume sets  priced at $25.

As much as I like the video above, I have to say that the history of the Expanded Books is much more intriguing.  The reaction that some had to the new idea shows just how little has changed in 20 years. "You’d be surprised at how many people assume that we are on a satanic mission to destroy the libraries and bookstores of the world." says Voyager product producer Michael Cohen. "In fact, we love books. This place is full of books. We’re just trying to provide another way to enjoy them."

I don’t know yet if Hypercards still work on current computers, but chances are you should be able to find an emulator.  I hope someone tries to rescue these old ebooks; it would bring cutting edge 1992 tech into the 21st century.

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