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New ways to think about the book?

Peter Law

Games Editor, The Literary Platform

This week the design and innovation consultancy IDEO proposed three concepts for the future of the book. In a short film they present ipad-like mock ups of ‘Nelson’ – a non-fiction title which pulls in contextual information and comment; ‘Coupland’ – a readers’ network, recommendation engine and library for work; and ‘Alice’ – an interactive fiction. 

The film has divided opinion. Are these brilliant and inspiring new ways to think about the book? Or are they familiar ideas, mocked up on something like the current tech, for us all to usefully interrogate? Or are the ideas old hat, much less than we would hope for from thought-generators like IDEO?

Publishers, writers, readers, agencies – we’d like your opinions. Are you inspired or non-plussed? Have you pitched or been pitched similar ideas? Would you publish these apps? Could you build them? Would you use them? Please post your thoughts below.

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9 Responses to “New ways to think about the book?”

  1. Sophie Says:

    September 23rd, 2010 at 2:06 pm


    Nelson – isn’t this what some of the enhanced editions are on the way to doing on iPhone already? I think many publishers are already on this road… maybe just not as advanced..

    Coupland – these communities of shared libraries and recommendation are already online aren’t they?

    Alice – most interesting of the three – but again already concepts being explored by Tim Kring and Nokia with projects like Conspiracy4Good…

    And also see Leila Johnston’s piece on branching narratives

  2. Dean Johnson Says:

    September 23rd, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Some nicely executed concepts from IDEO. I still see value in the two extremes: eBook page-turners and fully interactive apps. The eBook readers just don’t give an acceptable experience for anything other than monochrome text but that’s actually OK, isn’t it? The talents of the iPad are wasted on the current crop of ‘enhanced’ eBooks and we should be seeing more publishers adding value rather than a video and a few photos.

    These concepts go some way towards defining an enhanced experience and the creative thinking is to be applauded. I’m just disappointed we’re not seeing more concepts by now, as Brandwidth’s pre-iPad IKEA viral was out last year! ( ).

    We’re now building this stuff rather than making mock up videos.

  3. Mary M. Says:

    September 23rd, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    What seems to me left out is the immense amount of human labor involved in these models. It’s easy to dream of things, but what author has the time to do this (Alice) for *one* reader? How much would it cost? I could see a millionaire hiring an author to do this, or perhaps an organization, but regular folk??

    And with Nelson, the dense annotations, to be reliable, would require a scholar, or a team of scholars.

    What these suggestions embody, I think, is NOT new models of books but new models of authorship without a clear incentive structure. And that’s not a design or technology innovation.

  4. Chris Meade Says:

    September 24th, 2010 at 10:38 am

    It’s a slick film, but we’ve had enough emphasis on the platform and design, now we need to generate compelling content, wonderful stories and experiences in these forms that make them more than just a cool idea. Also new forms of authorship involve new roles in support – curating the conversations around reading in ways that make genuinely fulfilling experiences for readers.

  5. Adrian Driscoll Says:

    September 24th, 2010 at 11:19 am

    All the models rely on a high level of either manual semantic tagging or reliable auto-tagging. The cost of the former and the trustworthiness of the latter are both limiting factors.

    Of course in many ways, as ever, the future is here:

    Newton – key logic forward linking and citation tracking and impact is very much where STM journals are pushing beyond.

    Copland – patron driven purchasing of ebooks based on user behaviours is already being rolled out in academic libraries via systems from library suppliers.

    Alice – Chris Meade more than most about such things will know that some of these ideas are around. Some of this is close things to Six to Start project for Penguin. The history of hypertext fiction in general seems to me to be pointing more literate games than literature like this…

  6. Marius Lobontiu Says:

    September 24th, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    The best thing about the video is the design. Other than that, all the ideas are pretty old and, as it’s been said, we should be already building these apps and not showcasing concepts.

    I think the real question is what kind of fiction will take the shape of apps like Alice. There will probably be some troubled waters, as very few first tier authors will approach these experiments in the early stages.

    Most likely, there will be a period very similar to that of the early days of the novel – where this kind of fiction is considered low, pop, light and shallow, being done either for profit or for the sheer novelty (not out of genuine talent and rapport with the medium). Like the old serial novels, much derided in their time, then classicized, then finally recognized as.. vintage pulp.

    I think the next Tom Clancys, Dan Browns or Dannielle Steels will quickly jump on the bandwagon. On the one hand, this will go a long way towards popularizing the medium – on the other, it will label it as the new pulp. It will be hard to advocate it as a medium, during this period (fun times ahead). But if all goes well it will attract the attention of “serious” writers and then we’ll all have won.

  7. Mary Tod Says:

    October 1st, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    What I love about these examples is the way they make me think differently about (a) how we read, (b) how I could write and (3) how we assemble, evalute and understand information. Nelson and Coupland seem more focused on business and non-fiction use while Alice supports the realm of fiction. The possibility of writing my novels with optional endings, different plot twists or adjustable characters makes possible the concept of collaborative writing or writing that engages readers during development. Very intriguing – even if the ideas are old as pointed out by some.

  8. The Future of the Book | Ari Meil Says:

    October 1st, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    […] […]

  9. Testing for the future Says:

    October 4th, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    […] 4th, 2010 Last week design and innovation consultancy IDEO released their thoughts on the Future of the Book in a neatly executed video. The industry response was mixed – ranging from ‘seen it all […]

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