If you read today’s new headline in UK book trade journal of record The Bookseller, you could be forgiven for thinking that Google had just launched a major new ebook initiative to overhaul Amazon in the digital book stakes. Editions at Play, the actual project under The Bookseller‘s headline “Google launches e-book ‘experiment'” appears in fact to be an experimental initiative by London’s Visual Editions, in partnership with Google’s Creative Lab.
“We sell books that cannot be printed” proclaims the Editions at Play website. What they actually appear to be doing is enabling production of ebooks that also have a strong CG, interactive, or other digital element which renders them unfit for the printed page. Google’s blog describes these as “books that change dynamically on your phone or tablet, using all the attributes of the modern mobile web to do things that printed books never could.”
For instance, “Entrances & Exits by Reif Larsen is a Borgesian love story told through Google Street View, in which the narrator discovers a mysterious key in an abandoned bookshop and gradually learns of its power to open and close doors around the world.” There also appear to be quite a few “Ideas for Books” on the Editions at Play landing page, which may be works in progress, but appear to be more attempts to garner ideas for even funkier newer realizations of certain themes. Visual Editions is certainly inviting input by napkin sketches. “If you want to send in your napkin sketch of how [TITLE X] could work, tweet it to us,” the blurb at the end of each Idea-for-a-Book proclaims.
Again, I’m struggling – okay, not too painfully – to figure out exactly what is so new here. Books-as-apps-or-programs have been around since well before the advent of any mobile device more portable and user-friendly than a Miami Vice phonebrick. Bobby Rabyd’s 1996 publication Sunshine 69, “with navigable maps of settings, a nonlinear calendar of scenes, and a character “suitcase” enabling readers to try on nine different points of view,” sounds pretty much everything you’d find at Editions at Play – except for the heavy reliance on Google solutions, perhaps. And it’s not as though digital-only books are exactly new these days anyway. Just how many self-published Kindle titles ever get a hard copy edition? But then, perhaps it’s taken The Bookseller‘s headline writers exactly two decades to get up to speed on these issues …