The BBC has an article looking at different ways that books (mostly e-books, but with a print example or two) can be made more attractive in the information age. One way has to do with digitally personalizing printed books with children’s names—not exactly a new idea, as I was given a personalized book in my childhood that was run off on a line printer.
A Spanish company, SeeBook, sells e-books via physical cards with QR codes on them—scan the code from your phone or tablet to download the e-book. This seems like a handy way to get around the problem of how to give an e-book as a gift, as well as a convenient way for bookstores to sell e-books in the same way they might sell gift cards. It also put me in mind of the Romanian company that’s been using QR codes to put e-bookshelves onto wallpaper.
A browser plug-in called Bookindy hooks into the British “Hive” independent bookseller network, and pops up a window showing how much the book would cost there whenever the browser user searches Amazon for it. (I’m guessing that means it’s only functional in the UK.)
A startup called The Pigeonhole uses an app to serialize books and let readers interact with the authors and each other. Comma Press’s MacGuffin “acts like a Spotify for books,” with authors reading their books out loud and analytics to reveal how each book gets read.
Another service for people reading books on phones or tablets is Rook, which offers access to free e-books at WiFi hotspots. It hopes to get them hooked enough on reading the books while they’re at the hotspot that, when they have to go, they buy the e-book to take with them and finish later.
This is exactly the kind of innovation the e-book market needs at this point. Yes, Amazon has wrapped up the lion’s share of the market, but that doesn’t mean others can’t compete—especially if they hook people from their cell phones, which are finally starting to come into their own as e-reading devices. The nice thing about being smaller than Amazon is that they don’t need to be as successful as Amazon—they just need to succeed on their own terms.
But will they? It’s a good question. But if those people who are more at home with phones than Kindles can be attracted to e-reading, they have as good a chance as any.
The BBC article’s headline asks whether technology “[killed] the book or [gave] it new life.” I think the answer is, as always, both. There’s still life in the printed word yet, regardless of whether it’s printed on paper or a screen.