Time to change how we read ebooks

It comes like clockwork each fall, the leaves change color, temperaures cool down, and tech companies release their new gadgets on the world.

Ahhhh… the smell of new devices in the fall.

This fall is turning out to be a bountiful harvest of new devices - Apple, Samsung, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have all annouced new/updated devices to be released this season. So with the release of so many good content consumption devices, I believe it’s time they all take a page out Apple’s playbook [1] and have their ebook readers make less of an effort of trying to have ebooks feel like we’re reading a physical book and focus more on the document consumption process. [2]

One of the selling points all these companies will advertise this holiday season is how nice it will be to read an ebook on their device over every other device. And there’s the problem. They’re all stuck, trying to trick us into feeling like we’re reading a real book when we’re not. When I read a physical book, I have to turn the pages because that’s the medium it comes in. I could just as easily read The Hobbit off a giant scroll to experience one long continuous story. [3] Printed pages aren’t necessarily my choice, it’s just the medium publishers have given me to read (consume) the book. So why should an ebook have to be relegated to the same staunchy standards of yesteryear?

Ebook readers (or reading apps) should treat the book like one document, with the option to scroll through the book, like reading a really really long web post. The document may have chapters, but for an ebook that’s an easy step in the document setup. I don’t want to turn a page in my electronic documents (ebook, PDF, etc) anymore. More often than you’d expect, a critical idea or plot point comes at the turn of a page. Scrolling through a document just feels more continuous and isn’t that what the tech companies what us to do - feel more connected to the content we have on the device?

The other aspect of ebooks vs physical books is the ability to place notes in the margins or highlight specfic sections. Highlights, or notes, in a book should flow together based on the topic, not when it was taken. If I read a really good book again, I want see any new ideas tied to discoveries or thoughts I’ve already had on a similar subject. While most ebook readers allow these tasks, the management of these marks still appears to be an afterthought. For example, Amazon’s Kindle Reader offers highlighting and note taking, but keeps the notes in the order they are written, not in order of the book. Seeing my new note regarding a passage in Chapter 2, next to my last note in Chapter 34, does me no good - there is no continuity in the thoughts being captured or comments being written. In this case break the rule about being less like a book and be more like a book - sort notes in the order they appear. In a physical book, if I highlight a passage on page 120, and then something new clicks on page 121, becuse I’m reading the book a second time, both passages will now stand out and be connected on a subconscious level. Scattered notes in ebook readers can’t make that same connection. Maybe not everyone wants to see their notes this way, but at least have the option to do so.

Got any questions? Feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @MyGeekDaddy.

  1. Even Apple could stand to take a look at their own notes again.  ↩

  2. I had a whole rant on skeuomorphism in here and then the editor in me woke up.  ↩

  3. Part of me thinks that would be a great way to read a story like The Hobbit.  ↩