News about e-readers and e-books and literary apps comes fairly steadily these days -- sales figures, releases, updates, acquisitions. It's no surprise then, as a technology journalist, I watch the space closely. But I also do so as an avid reader and (former) literature scholar.
I wonder (and I worry) a lot about what digitization will entail for books, whose dictionary definition today -- for what it's worth -- does speak of the printed page bound together in a volume. Once we tear that apart and feed it through the OCR scanner, once we add animation and videos and audio, one must ask: what exactly is a book? I'll spare you the historical hand-wringing, in part because I'm pretty optimistic that books will continue to "be" and now have the potential to be something else, something "more."
As I think about what a book could be -- whether fiction or non-fiction, whether reading for business (or rather for school) or for pleasure -- I think about the following things when I weigh and when I dream about innovation:
10 Things I Wish for in E-Books
1. A book should be easy to annotate. I should be able to write in the margins, and it should be easy to transfer, share, and store my highlights.
2. I should be able to follow what other smart folks read, highlight, and annotate -- should they so choose, of course. Reading can be social. Reading should be social.
3. If I'm going to pay more for an app (or for an e-book) than for a print book, I want more: you know, "bonus features" -- like on DVDs, only smarter. I don't want to pay $14.99 for a Kindle version of the new Game of Thrones novel, for crying out loud, simply because it's "new."
4. As my digital e-book collection grows, I'd like to be able to sort it by something other than title or author. I'd like to be able to group by topic (SF, for example) not just by "recent, title, author."
5. I want to be able to own e-books. That means I want my books DRM-free. I'd like to be able to move my e-books from my Kindle app to my iBook app to my Xbox. And I want to be able to sell what I own -- used copies -- whatever that means in terms of giving up my ownership rights.
6. I wouldn't object to reminders that it's been 90-some-odd days since I read a chapter in the Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart or that it's been 160-days since I've purchased (and never opened!) Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood These reminders need to be fully customizable, because I have different feelings of guilt and panic about finishing or not finishing different books.
7. I want interactive content. I want to link to the footnotes, to maps, to supplemental information. I also want the option to turn these links -- and all "interactive features" -- off.
8. I want recommendations based on not just what I browse or buy via Amazon, but what I tweet, watch on Netflix, check in via GetGlue.
9. I want to be able to lend my books. Have you ever read Robert Anton Wilson's The Illuminatus? Well you should. I'll lend you my copy. You'll love it. You'll buy your own. That's how it works. I want to be able to lend (e)books to my friends. I want to be able to lend (e)books to my son. "Here, read V for Vendetta. Then let's talk." I want to be able to lend books to my boyfriend. We watched Game of Thrones together on HBO. Now I've read the first four books in the series -- not the fifth, see above -- but I can't share.
10. I want the e-book/app to work on any device, on and offline. I love the iPad, don't get me wrong. But to build e-book apps solely for that platform raises all sorts of questions about accessibility. E-books should be a boon, not a barrier, to literacy.
I'd love to hear what others have on their wishlist for e-books.