From Paper to Pixels

This is a guest blog post by Karen Martin, who also blogs for bookleteer. You can connect on our site with Giles Lane, director of Proboscis who developed the bookleeter app.

Kathryn, manager of this website, invited me to write about the current shift in publishing from paper books to eReaders. I’m going to suggest there are three ways of interacting with books and that the shift from paper to pixels has implications for each of them.

  1. Making:What is the effect on authors, designers and publishers when books can be made and distributed online?
  2. Reading:How do electronic books alter the reading experience? What do readers gain and lose by this?
  3. Sharing:What new opportunities do electronic books open for sharing content? What avenues for sharing do they close?

In this post I'll focus on the consequences for making and reading books. I’ll be writing about sharing books at another time. If you’re all at sea with this, have a look at this quick introduction to ereaders.

Book-making and Book-makers

The term ‘electronic books’ covers a wide range of formats, which may in time be given their own specific titles. Think of, for example, ebooks read on eReaders such as the Kindle or through applications like iBooks; online 'books' such as, books that exist as multimedia applications such as Alice in Wonderland:

by Atomic Antelope, and those, like Carlton's Augmented Reality Books Come Alive series that have a hybrid physical/digital form:


Digital forms widen the number of those who ‘create’ a work. Just as the different types of book mentioned above come alive in many different ways, so in each case the ‘author’ can mean someone different. It could be a team of computer programmers, designers, writers, illustrators and project managers. Or, with amillionpenguins the notion of shared making is taken even further: guest authors and members of the public are invited to contribute to the narrative through a website.

Collaborative authorship such as this has implications for the future of the relationship between author and publisher: it shifts the power and blurs the lines. Projects such as amillionpenguins and applications like Storybird, Blurb andLulu open up the publishing process enabling more people to get involved with making books. It is not only aspiring writers who can benefit. Storybird encourages illustrators to upload their work for other people to use. This raises the profile of the illustrator and, if the book is printed, can earn them money. This links into wider trends such as collaborative working.

The opportunity for authors to raise money from sources other than publishing companies is another democratising development. When the authors of Art Space Tokyo needed money to reprint the original book and develop an iPhone application they turned to the Kickstarter website. Previously they might have approached publishers to explore this. Kickstarter enables individuals to pledge small sums of money towards specific projects to help them become reality. If we think of book-making as a process, Kickstarter gives the public the chance to act as commissioning editors. This can be thought of as a form of crowdsourcing.

The reading experience

It’s not just the author or the publisher who has a close relationship with a book. The reader does too. Paper type, page size, book covers, pop-up illustrations, fold-out pages and so on all contribute to the tactile quality of books making them a joy to touch and hold. How can eReaders such as the iPad accommodate these tangible properties?

While some of these qualities may be difficult to replicate on an e-reader, digital books have their own ways of extending the reading experience. Alice in Wonderland by Atomic Envelope is designed for the iPad whilst based on Lewis Carroll’s classic text and illustrations by Tenniel. Alice uses the iPad’s touchscreen to trigger events and exploits the built-in technology such as the accelerometer and orientation sensors to control visual effects. The reading experience here is enriched by elements of the text and illustrations being brought to life such as the flying cards, Alice’s changing size and the Cheshire Cat.

It’s also interesting to ask what other roles, beyond text, books currently have and how digital books might reproduce these. For instance, James Bridle suggests that most of a book’s life is spent as a souvenir reminding us of the reading experience. James developed the application bookkeepr to explore how mementos of digital books might be created to sit on our shelves in place of paper books.

How the lifespan of a book might appear, by James Bridle



Nowadays, we have more choice than ever in how we make and read books and it seems that the real challenge is choosing the most appropriate format for the situation. On the one hand digital books have much to offer in terms of opening up the process of book-making to a wider public and presenting interactive content. But books are more than the content they contain and paper books have a subtlety to their form that digital books – as yet – cannot match. They are also more resistant to moisture and being dropped, can be read in the bath and on the beach, can act as a dinner plate and a fly swat and don’t require upgrading. So, instead of a shift from paper to pixels perhaps it is better to think of digital books and eReaders as creating additional possibilities for authors and readers that give us greater choice in presenting content.

*bookleteer is an online application for authoring and publishing Diffusion eBooks and StoryCubes. These eBooks and StoryCubes are created online to be printed out and shared. Bookleteer is made by Proboscis. See the bookleteer website if you're interested to know more.

Last updated at 14:44 Fri 26/Nov/10.
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Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Linked to this, I've just come across an interesting example of how digital impacts/is impacting on the process of writing books - the process used by Nina Simon to write the Participatory Museum. It began life as a closed wiki - she wrote chapters, they went through edits from other museum types. Then she turned it into an ordinary book that anyone can buy: and also as a free online document.

(This was brought to my attention by Kate Smith).

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