A few days ago I discussed an article complaining that commercial e-books were restricted to being digital carbon copies of paper books and they hadn’t moved forward appreciably in the fifteen-plus years since they were introduced. In a sponsored article for Publishing Perspectives, Erin L. Cox hears from Dan Nigloschy of codeMantra who believes his company has the solution. Unfortunately, the article is long on generalities and short on actual examples.
As near as I can make out from the article, codeMantra’s main line of business is converting everything into XML, so it’s more cross-platform portable and customizable. Nigloschy explains this will help publishers be more flexible in adapting their backlist titles to whatever new circumstance that comes along. (He quotes Carolyn Reidy’s remarks about backlist someone hasn’t read yet being frontlist to them, because at this point it’s fashionable in e-publishing to quote Carolyn Reidy. After all, everyone has backlist.)
In his predictions for the future of publishing, Nigloschy concurs [with Reidy], “We will see changes in content that used to be tied to a publication date. Content will exist on a continuum.” codeMantra allows publishers the ability to update or add supplementary content as needed.
“Content will exist on a continuum.” That makes for a great buzzword, and I can sort of see where he’s coming from, but what does this mean to me? The article doesn’t really fill that in, so it’s left to me to make some guesses.
At the moment, most e-books seem to be one-and-done affairs where the publisher converts them over to e-book form, posts them, and that’s that—no further changes are in the offing. Occasionally there will be enough outcry about some title’s shoddy scanning and spellchecking that the publishers go back and fix that, but that’s usually about as far as it goes. (Or, as in the case of The Martian, they might change the cover to match movie posters. Which is really kind of a pity, as The Martian had a great cover already.) There have been a few examples of e-books being updated after the fact (The Battle of $9.99 comes to mind, which got some added details after Judge Cote issued her verdict on the Apple e-book anti-trust case), but they’re definitely the exception rather than the rule.
So, the idea behind codeMantra seems to be that publishers can update e-books if and as changing circumstances warrant, without having to publish all-new editions. That’s a great idea in principle—one of the great things about e-books is that they should be able to be updated if information changes—but where are the examples? How is this going to help e-books become more than just “books under glass”? Even paper books can be reprinted in new editions, after all—that’s the entire principle behind the college textbook industry.
How are they going to incentivize publishers to take advantage of this capability even if they offer it? They built it, but what makes them think that publishers are going to come?
As a sponsored post, they don’t go into this sort of thing because they don’t really have to. “Our company is awesome, because XML! Rah rah!” Which is a pity, because I’d really like to know more about how codeMantra could change the face of e-publishing, and particularly what they could change it to.