What Do You Think of Illustrated E-books?

via MoMA

You’re reading this, so on some level you consider yourself a visual person. On sublime spring afternoons, you sit through long, foreign films; when out to dinner you comment on the design of restaurant menus; you critique the composition of stupid cell phone ads; you make sure your socks always match your suspenders. Me too (except that last one—I don’t own suspenders).

I also bet you have lounged around at home, slowly turning the pages of a large-format illustrated book, ran your fingers over the ink on the page, removed the dust jacket to palm the case wrap, maybe even stuck your nose in the gutter as you inhale gently. (Check out MoMA Senior Library Assistant Rachael Morrison’s art project that consists of her smelling every book in the museum’s library!)

There isn’t anyone out there today denying that e-books will be the preferred medium for reading within the next generation, at most. In early April, according to this Tablet PC Review article, Random House celebrated “e-book sales growth of 250% in announcing that its overall revenues climbed 6% to $2.5 billion last year.” Publishing is a business and this kind of growth will drive the industry, across the board from the corporate giants to the independents. E-books are here to stay then, and it is hard to argue the convenience of various devices and difficult not to marvel at how quickly the visual aspect of the e-reading experience has improved.

I have seen some pretty impressive apps and e-books that wrangle illustrated content and maintain the typographic integrity of their original printed pages, from children’s books to artist monographs. Did I enjoy the reading experience? Not particularly, though it would probably grow on me if I owned such a gadget. Was I impressed by the resolution and the interactive and multimedia dynamics? Absolutely.

 

via Newsweek

We live in a screen-based world. You’re reading this, right? It stands to reason that at some point in the not too distant future digital illustrated books will rival the printed editions. In early April, Publisher’s Weekly reported MoMA’s foray into app land with the release of five titles. Is there really a difference between images on Eugene Atget’s glass plate negatives and images on today’s tablet? Metaphorically, I don’t think so . . .

For discussion: as reading words off a printed page is relegated to a novelty in some old timer’s nostalgic tales of yore, and the relationships people like me (us) have with codex books become as anachronistic as rotary phones, will printed illustrated books survive? Will the children of today’s thirty-something parents connect with books or just see them as things that collect dust? And what of their children? What happens when the human expectation of a “book” is actually some form of a digital book?

I’m genuinely curious: What do you think about this?


About Buzz Poole

Buzz Poole has written about books, design, art, and culture for numerous outlets, including Print, The Village Voice, The Believer, Los Angeles Review of Books, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Millions. He is the author of the story collection I Like to Keep My Troubles on the Windy Side of Things; the New Statesman named his examination of unexpected iconography, Madonna of the Toast, one of 2007’s Best Underground Books.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. I think it unlikely that any commissioning editor can put their hand on heart and say that the physical book meets the books concept. We have a chance to addresss this, and make the illustrated eBook a complete visual story with it’s ability to add other mediums and that’s what makes it worthwhile.

  2. Pingback: Books vs. eBooks (does one have to win?) : Publish2iPad

  3. As a design student, and avid reader, this is something that really interests me and as such i find myself on both sides of the fence. I think as with most media movements from physical to digital there are pro’s and con’s. For the reader an ebook is far more convenient, you can carry entire libraries with you as well as PDF’s so you know that wherever you are you’ll always have a Fitzgerald short story handy. Yet at the same time it lacks the tactile pleasure of a printed book (be it a novel or an academic text).  
    What I really hope is that people approach this in a way that is relevant to the text. Coffee table books, for example, with their fantastic images are incredibly well-suited to an iPad. You can zoom in or out and you could create a slideshow screensaver of your favourite images perhaps. A ‘novel’ like the Da Vinci Code could benefit from ARG type features where you solve puzzles to unlock more of the backstory. However, there are plenty of books that aren’t improved by e-readers or tablets. Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon would not be enhanced by a digital experience, but then there is no reason why someone shouldn’t be able to own a kindle copy (after all it is around 700 pages long). Similarly there are some beautiful books such as those made by Visual Editions and Marian Bantje’s ‘I Wonder’ that need to be seen in a physical form.
    Finally if you haven’t already seen this it’s worth a look. Al Gore’s new book has a rather beautiful iPad app which is demonstrated here.
    p.s. I’ve also written on a similar topic on my blog *shameless plug*

  4. Also, I think we need to divide them into two separate mediums and choose them carefully according to the material in hand. I mean, of course, if you’re talking about a rotating cube, you can’t print that.

  5. There was a conference held in Rotterdam, in my school, regarding paper vs e-readers. There were people speaking for and against both sides. What do i think? Regardless of how convenient e-books are, they can never convey the romance, the eforrt, the intrigue, the experience, the sense of that of a paper book. Screens pose so many restrictions in the sense of sensory excitement, it is shocking to me that they are so welcomed. At the same time, i also understand why they are so popular. So, with my old-fashioned ***, I welcome you to the future.

  6. I’m an editor and interior book designer who is just beginning to explore enhanced e-book design, and I imagine this issue is the same as the movement from radio to TV, or from book to movie – whether you prefer other creative artists to do more of your imagining for you. Enhanced e-books are allowing readers to see 2D in 3D, to “turn” objects, to see objects from other vantage points, etc. – filling in the gaps that our own imaginations used to fill. It will be a slippery slope, as the more immersive experiences are far more entertaining, but I think there will still be some who prefer to do their own imagining – too much information is sometimes just “too much,” even while some projects could be greatly enhanced, particularly if you can leave some clues to the story in the interactive illustrations, etc.