Along with a lottery win and the unlikely blockbusterisation of one of my books, my thin hope of amassing a huge retirement fund hinges upon a small piece of prototype technology in my possession, and which I one day hope to sell for a great whack to nerdy tech collectors. It’s called a Rocket e-Book, released circa 1998 as one of the first attempts to mass-market the now-ubiquitous e-book.
It’s not hard to see why the Rocket e-Book didn’t exactly set the world on fire: my Rocket is clunky, heavy, and has a crappy B&W screen. Critically, the Rocket couldn’t actually access many books (as I recall, there was a rather complex downloading function leading to a dispiriting website).
Until very recently - 19 January, to be precise – I’d never found cause to own any other e-reading device beyond my non-functioning Rocket e-Book. I find the Kindle rather too ascetic, like reading scrawlings on sheepskin. I like iBooks and occasionally squint through a novel on my iPhone, but it’s still not convinced me to shell out the £399 (basic MSRP) for an iPad, which I’ve generally considered to be little better than a very large iPod.
I am reconsidering that last position, though, now that Apple has launched iBooks Author, which not surprisingly is made for, and made possible by, the iPad. As the Apple bumf goes, “iBooks Author is an amazing new app that allows anyone to create beautiful Multi-Touch textbooks — and just about any other kind of book — for iPad. With galleries, video, interactive diagrams, 3D objects, and more, these books bring content to life in ways the printed page never could.”
As with all things Apple, iAuthor (already the app’s inevitable shorthand) has quickly become grist for the punditocracy. Opinions are mixed. Will iAuthor complete the one-two death punch to traditional publishing, the first jab being thrown by Amazon’s recent foray into direct publishing? Or will iAuthor instead turn out to be, as one wag put it, ‘the Death Star’ of publishing?
Being allergic to hyperventilating predictions at any extreme, I think the likelihood is that iAuthor will prove to be another, probably significant factor that authors must consider when pondering the how and why of publishing their work. Perhaps the most measured and sensible perspective herein was put forth in a recent Guardian article written by Faber chief executive Stephen Page, who wrote that the future of publishing lies in the ability to “imagine the life of a copyright in three dimensions, from book, to ebook, to app, to audio, to enhanced versions including extra content.”
Of course, one might quibble with the order of that list while adding any number of other points. But the ideas behind it are sound…and not a little surprising, considering how slow many mainstream publishers have been to embrace such a holistic perspective.
Page also emphasises the increasing importance of direct, personal connections between authors, audiences and publishers that aren’t mediated by technology – what Page describes broadly as ‘personal dealings’. This, of course, is music to the ears of we ReAuthoring types. Because as far as we know, there’s still no app for that.