Things appear to be speeding up in the digital publishing world and finally the eBook is beginning to matter. No sooner does Apple announce their contribution to the continuing argument around what an e-reader should actually do than Amazon and MacMillan dive at each other’s throats in a way that would make even shareholders blanch. MacMillan won the stoush, but only because Amazon (somewhat uncharacteristically) caved. Nevertheless, this is a sign of things to come. Both publishers and technology vendors want control of the market. Which means the product is important. Who would have thought? For so many years everyone dabbled in digital publishing, whether as an insurance policy or through Quixotic righteousness. Suddenly the big six are in the game and Amazon is attempting to impose its vision on the rest of the world whether through muscle or threats, while Apple attempt to make a product that will hit the market like a neutron bomb.
I have a sense that the current rash of insanity from the big end of town is still premature. No offence to the people who already enjoy their Kindle or Sony, but everything hinges on Apple selling truckloads of iPads. And I’m yet to be convinced they will. I wouldn’t call the device underwhelming—it does a hell of a lot for its price tag—but I still suspect the device—like all e-readers—solves a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s a better overall package than the Kindle, no question, but can it possibly live up to all that promise?
Then again, my partner mentioned something pretty enlightening the other day (she does that sometimes):
‘If they offered, say, ten free eBooks with the iPad, I’d definitely consider buying one. For much the same price you get all the books and the computer.’
I’m yet to see evidence that they will offer this, but it would seem to be an easy enticement to generate sales, even though the iPad’s price—especially in Australia—will be well off the price of ten books.
So where does all this leave tiny, single artist-operated ventures like mine? To be honest I don’t know. The title of this post comes from the sense that, in my championing of the PDF format as the most appropriate digital publishing platform, I have been thinking of the ultimate reading device as a static book-like thing where the publisher controls all aspects of the experience: the text, the formatting, the font, the page breaking. Since reading more and more on my iPhone apps Stanza and the gorgeous Classics, I’ve actually realised that texts need to be far more flexible and publishers (and authors) need to hand over to the reader their control of font, text sizing, and layout. If a reader wants my stories in magenta coloured Comic Sans on a raging red background, who am I to say no?
In offering beautifully formatted and strictly tamper-proof PDFs of my stories from this site, have I missed a fairly important point about the experience of reading on screen? Am I just limiting my potential readership? Am I shooting myself in the foot?
More and more, I suspect so.