The recent official launch for The City We Build, the amplified ebook made between if:book and the Queensland Poetry Festival, has highlighted some of the challenges faced by authors, publishers, and readers when designing digital books that take advantage of their capabilities. Regardless of how well designed or how beautiful its content, The City We Build is unlikely to ever reach some readers. This is because it has been designed for one digital platform alone.
Writers and publishers alike want their content accessible and available to as many readers as possible, but in the digital world this means taking into account a wide variety of devices. While it's entirely appropriate there should be no one-size-fits-all reading device, for writers, this incredible diversity of devices presents a challenge of first principle.
What kind of book are you making?
To suit as many readers as possible, books must be designed for the simplest of devices. To a large extent, this means text. The simplest ereaders replicate the basic book experience as closely as possible. This means no colour, no video, no hyperlinking. Of course, for many books, this presents no problem at all.
The original poems from The City We Build were written for a Choose Your Own locative project. To read the poems, you had to stand there, on the corner of Brunswick and Ann, smartphone or tablet in hand. The purpose of The City We Build was to adapt that locative project into book form, without losing its sense of place or its multimedia origins. We wanted you to feel as though you were still wandering the Valley streets, maybe minus the heat and the legwork. This meant incorporating images and audio. Most of all, to replicate the reader's choice of experience, jumping from poem to poem, we needed hyperlinks.
In Australia, right now, the platform that meets all those needs is Apple's iPad.
We would love nothing more than to make The City We Build available to anyone with a passing interest (it is free after all), but for the moment, this kind of project has but one destination.
It's a trade off writers face with every new project. Do you make a work suitable for a range of devices or do you exploit the features of a single device to make as rich an experience as possible? The direction you choose will depend on a myriad of factors, but the guiding principle should always be to serve the work itself first.