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Big Ideas. Short Books.

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What is the definition of a book?

What, in fact, defines a book? Is it the linear, text-only format, whether digital or print? Is it the reading experience? Those are questions a lot of folks are asking. Two filmmakers in DC, Aziz Isham and Patrick White, have their own answer. Not a definitive answer, mind you. But an intriguing approach to the continuing redefinition of a book. Their answer has to do with non-linear storytelling, as well as with the experience of reading.

Join Aziz, Patrick and me (and several other panelists) at a DC Week event: The Future of Publishing on Monday, Nov. 7, 2011. It’s at DC’s Affinity Lab from 10 AM – 12 noon. Learn more and RSVP here.

Aziz and Patrick of Arcade Sunshine Media are applying their filmmaking talents to the creation of multi-media interactive ebooks. One of their first productions is an enhanced edition of Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet by Australian author and environmentalist Tim Flannery.

The book is an iPad app, elegantly designed and astonishingly rich. As Aziz and Patrick put it, it’s “a complete multi-media, multi-layered experience.” Embedded in the app, along with the text of the book, are short documentaries, video interviews with the author, infographics, animations and a section where the reader can type notes as well as add to a live Twitter stream based on a hashtag for the book.

The app is $11.99 in the iTunes store. You can sample it by downloading the free version Here on Earth Lite, which contains the first three chapters.

One might ask, as I do below, if interactive books enhanced with audio, video, social media sharing, etc. are, in fact, books. Or if they’re another animal.

Reading a multi-media book is an entirely different experience from reading a print book or a Kindle ebook. Reading a text-only book (print or digital) is a mostly linear – and quiet – experience aside from the whisper or gentle “click” of page turning. I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that many readers may not want the distraction of video and audio. A multi-media book, by definition, beckons the reader to wander down rabbit holes exploring the topic of the book in different dimensions. Is that a good or bad thing?

Who knows? Aziz and Patrick agreed that reading as we currently define it is a quiet, contemplative experience. That said, the notion that a multi-media experience can wrap around a book and help promote it is provocative.

Useful Links

The Future of Books interview with Aziz and Patrick – Sept. 21, 2011

How to Use Twitter Hashtags Inside Your eBook Galley Cat interview with Aziz – April 14, 2011


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