E-books are nowhere near finished evolving

The medium is still young.

(Photo: Natalie Castellino)

(Photo: Natalie Castellino)

The other day, when Canadian e-reader maker Kobo announced the release of its latest device—the Aura HD—I couldn’t help but wonder, “Who cares about e-readers anymore?” With the price, size and weight of tablets coming down dramatically, the single-purpose e-reader seems like something of an anachronism.

Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who thought that. The Globe and Mail had a story that asked much the same question, with an analyst pointing out that there is indeed “almost no upgrade cycle.” In other words, people who have e-ink readers already are either perfectly happy with them and aren’t buying new ones, or they’re switching over to tablets. E-readers are thus either destined for the obsolescence pile, or they’ll be coming out of Kinder eggs soon enough.

That said, the things that actually come on e-readers—e-books—are nowhere near finished evolving and innovating. As The Guardian reports, publisher Faber & Faber is just one of many experimenting with the medium in an effort to take e-books beyond just simple text on an a virtual page and into their “next generation.”

The publisher has enlisted multimedia company The Story Mechanics to transform John Buchan’s action-thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps, originally published as a magazine serial in 1915, into an interactive fiction experience for the iPad and Android tablets.

The “book” will feature stop-motion animation, digital paintings, music and gaming elements such as achievements to create a “fully immersive product.”

“The Story Mechanics have come up with something completely new in the landscape of fiction e-books,” said Henry Volans of Faber Digital. “It’s a new way of reading with John Buchan’s story at its heart, presented afresh through a TV and gaming-inspired lens.”

Whether or not the endeavour works or not remains to be seen, but tablets and their underlying technologies are making such new story-telling forms possible—and we’ve only scratched the surface of possibilities. New technology that combines old ones often makes such things possible, much like film blended record music with moving images to create an entirely new medium.

On a related note, Amazon last week launched its Kindle Comic Creator, which lets comic book creators easily import and translate their work so it can be easily viewed on Kindle devices. The tool lets authors make double-page spreads, facing pages and even auto-detects panels, so that they can add panel-by-panel views if they choose.

From there, creators can sell their comics via Kindle the same way any e-book author can, with Amazon taking its cut, of course. With the market for creators expanding dramatically as a result, this is another area where we can expect lots more innovation to happen.