Thursday, 18 February 2010

E-books need innovation, not bling

While looking at the video and article from Wired in my previous post, I came across the Wired preview of its upcoming iPad version of the magazine, and I sighed. It's yet another Adobe-powered 'look at what we can do' digital rendering of a print product with interactivity, embedded videos, 360-degree animations and all the digital bling we see every time someone mentions the word 'e-book'.

When will someone stop these people just trying to replicate print on a screen? I don't care how funky the 2-axis scrolling is, or how cute the page browser is. All this stuff has been done to death, and still looks awful, even if you ignore the readability issues. Coloured text on black backgrounds? You can (just) get away with that on a high-contrast piece of paper, but not on an IPS LCD screen. Have they chosen screen-friendly fonts? I don't know, but I think I can guess the answer. Yes, it is using Wired's design values, but a magazine that prides itself on its long-form articles needs people to be able to read that content, especially when they're paying handsomely for the privilege.

Wired has an innovative print product, so if the publisher is a true innovator, why does the electronic product have to look like print? The Wired website doesn't, even though it could, for very good reasons - it's designed to fit in with how readers use the web. If the iPad just offers a touching experience rather than a reading experience, what's the point? OK, advertisers might be able to show off their wares in a prettier way, but they can already do that in Zinio, Olive, or many of the other many e-book platforms. Yet few of them choose to except perhaps in a handful of popular eye-candy publications like Dennis Publishing's Monkey or iGizmo.

If you take a look at Google's 'Living Stories' concept, which it has just made open source and available to any  publisher, that's much more like it. It's a clever way of displaying content in a way that's only possible on the web. It doesn't look as funky, although it could no doubt be tarted up, but in terms of reader experience it's miles ahead.

Perhaps Wired's iPad edition is better in he flesh than it looks in the demo. Somehow I doubt it, which is a crying shame both for readers and for the struggling publishing industry.

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