It’s easy to think that today’s ebook is as good as it gets. Publishers are mostly satisfied with the current print-under-glass model and, unfortunately, flattening (or declining) ebook sales trends aren’t likely to drive investment in digital innovation.
What if readers could help drive some of that innovation in the future? Here’s why that’s a viable scenario…
When it comes to annotating ebooks today, consumers are typically stuck with some very basic options: highlights and comments. Those annotations are almost always limited to private view only. In fact, there was a startup a few years ago called Findings.com which tried to enable readers to share their highlights in Kindle books; they were quickly shut down by a rather large, powerful company in the northwest.
I think Findings was onto something and one day readers will not only be able to share and socialize highlights, but they’ll be able to add more content and value to the original ebook.
Consider the use-case of a student who’s mastered the art of note-taking and textbook highlighting. Back in my college days I loved it when I managed to buy a used textbook marked up by one of these students. It helped me hone in on the most important points in some pretty dull and dreary textbooks.
Now imagine that same use-case in a digital world where there are no barriers. Think of the textbook as one long web page the reader can manipulate and add to. The original textbook content forms the foundation but the reader can add to it as they see fit.
So while Jane is studying chemistry she comes across a slick periodic table website that allows her to dive deeper into any given element. Today she merely bookmarks the site in her browser; tomorrow she drags the url into the textbook, perhaps configuring it as a pop-up element inside the ebook, thereby enriching the reading experience.
Maybe she also finds a few terrific videos online that explain some of the more complicated concepts in this chemistry course. Why not drag those into the book too?
At the end of the semester, Jane has managed to curate an entirely new product. The textbook is the foundation, but web elements and widgets curated by Jane help round it out. This has been useful for Jane, but what if she’s also able to sell her annotated edition to other students next semester? Maybe Jane’s edition sells for $5 more than the standard edition and Jane gets a cut of that price difference.
Are you getting hung up on all the IP and content rights issues this raises? It’s fair to point that out, but what if all these web elements are nothing more than pointers in Jane’s annotated edition? In other words, Jane isn’t actually embedding the videos and web pages in her ebook, she’s just inserting pointers to them. It’s the same as when the book suggests the reader “go to www.wherever.com”. In my model, the words are replaced with a link and the link might just open the widget as a pop-up or perhaps a new tab in the browser. In short, I’m convinced the legal issues can be completely avoided.
I’m also convinced this model will one day become a reality. Readers will become curators and resellers. Not every reader will be part of this movement, but enough of them will see the opportunity to leverage their passions and experience to make it a viable model. Publishers will also have an opportunity to promote the reader curators who create the most interesting, value-added annotated editions.