What are Electronic Books?

Now that they are firmly established in the consumer sector, electronic books are beginning to demonstrate capabilities that challenge the very definition of reading. Audiovisual, interactive, and social elements enhance the informational content of books and magazines. Social tools extend the reader’s experience into the larger world, connecting readers with one another and enabling deeper, collaborative explorations of the text. The content of electronic books and the social activities they enable, rather than the device used to access them, are the keys to their popularity; nearly everyone carries some device that can function as an electronic reader, and more people are engaging with electronic books than ever before. New, highly interactive publications demonstrate that quite apart from their convenience, electronic books have the potential to transform the way we interact with reading material of all kinds, from popular titles to scholarly works. Electronic books are being explored in virtually every discipline, and the advantages for students make this technology worth pursuing.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • - nik.honeysett nik.honeysett Aug 25, 2011 Its a trend that museum's simply cannot ignore if they want to be relevant.
  • - holly holly Aug 28, 2011The next generation of scholars, and not to mention our regular audiences increasingly expect rich content to be available 24/7 - seema.rao seema.rao Aug 30, 2011Holly, i think that is exactly right--the regular audiences expects this.
  • This slices across several publication genres important to museums: not only scholarly catalogues (see OSCI, http://www.getty.edu/foundation/funding/access/current/online_cataloging.html) but also artists' books, art textbooks, and more. And yes, usability across diverse delivery platforms (software and hardware) will be crucial. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Aug 29, 2011
  • Seems like there is a lot of potential here for art scholarship and education.- rkvaron rkvaron Aug 30, 2011
  • - rob.stein rob.stein Aug 30, 2011 online publication and ereading tools have begun to transform the relationships that online visitors have with content produced by museums. With the advent of social media tools and the blogosphere, the bent towards short-form content snippets had a clear impact on the electronic content produced by museums. With a new generation of user-interfaces and reading platforms, some of the social and ergonomic factors behind the rise of short-form content have started to change. Museums frequently author scholarship and texts that require a well-supported thesis and argument. The advent of ereader tools and platforms will facilitate the adoption, citation, and consumption of longer form engagements with museum scholarship.
  • - erin.coburn erin.coburn Aug 31, 2011 e-Publishing is growing rapidly, and is manifesting itself in new ways all the time. We need to figure out how best to embrace and leverage this in the museum community. I’ve started to think of this in three different categories: 1. e-books – making print books available electronically with little,no changes to accommodate for the potential of the online environment. Museum publishers are starting to offer books both in print and electronically (for e-book readers). Additionally, books are being scanned/digitized, especially those that are no longer available in print: http://www.lacma.org/art/reading-room. Second are interactive e-publications. They tend to function like books but take advantage of interactivity. Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite is impressive. These are traditionally for tablets. http://www.moma.org/explore/mobile/abexnyapp http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/met-buncheong/id435185857?mt=8&ls=1# Finally are publications that are created specifically for the online environment. OSIC is the best example of this. Note: Added links here (as opposed to below) for context.
  • Just to clarify the point above, the ABEXNY iPad app was not an interactive e-pub but a "built from the ground up" app without much repurposed content from the printed publication, so I would categorize it as an app not an e-Pub as described here. In general, I agree with the categories Erin describes, but I'm still struggling with how the e-pub categories relate to apps and other browser-based projects like online exhibitions. I think there is a general issue of branding and categorization here—what distinguishes an interactive e-book from an app? from an browser-based online exhibition? And how do you group them, market them, etc.? And does our audience understand the distinction? And how do those distinctions play into issues like free versus paid (and freemium) content? - allegra.burnette allegra.burnette Aug 31, 2011
  • Agreed with all of the above - and the questions raised are important ones. What we could also think more about is audience. Who is the audience for our new e-publications? And who is the audience for the apps? We sell print exhibition catalogues with scholarly content that most people don't read, but many buy because of the beautiful pictures (myself included!). But as ebooks and apps become more prevalent (and I think in part the question of app or ebook goes back to the hardware issue), will people still purchase books they don't read simply for the beautiful pics and the coffee table value? Are the images as important in an app and/or ebook as they are in a print pub in terms of motivation to purchase? And perhaps there is a way to rethink publications thanks to digital publishing choices, and make more choices for more specific audience types (instead of the odd combining of audiences that happens for the picture book/scholarly catalogue)? This goes back again to the need for a digital content strategy. - beth.harris beth.harris Sep 1, 2011
  • With museums struggling to secure funding to publish catalogs, e-publishing may be the way to go.- adrianne.russell adrianne.russell Aug 31, 2011

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • - nik.honeysett nik.honeysett Aug 25, 2011 I think there's a larger theme/technology trend at play, of which e-books are a subset. With e-books (and apps) we are trending towards discretely packaged digital content, which appears to be at odds with the notion of blanket access and online dissemination. But actually I think this approach is more inline with curation and consequently more likely to resonate with the museum community. Museums struggle with interpreting to their anonymous, online audience, but e-books and apps offer a way to accomplish that. - christina.depaolo christina.depaolo I agree with this point.
  • - rob.stein rob.stein Aug 30, 2011 What are the differences that interactive media can bring to a long-held tradition of book content. Does this create an entirely new media that features the best of deep and well argued content with dynamic presentation and exploration?
  • - rob.stein rob.stein Aug 30, 2011 Distribution models for ePublishing remain cloudy at best. Will museums try to monetize epublication? Will ebooks by museums show up in an app store? on amazon? for sale through the museums' websites. Will libraries carry museum electronic publications
  • - rob.stein rob.stein Aug 30, 2011 Is there a hybrid relationship between electronic publishing and a printed counterpart? Does the online pub become an extended narrative that leverages a physical publication. Does the physical publication act as an icon to the online resource? Will you put QR codes into the Horizon.Museum report this year to facilitate the easy linking to resources mentioned by the report? :)
  • Another perspective here.

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • - lynda.kelly lynda.kelly Aug 31, 2011 The ways that users "navigate" a digital publication will change the way that they inetarct with physical labels in museums. In the future visitors will probably not read top to bottom, they will be used to scrolling, highlighting, bookmarking and sharing. I see this as the end of physical labels!
  • Museums will be expected to contribute new content or refresh existing content on a fairly consistent basis and disseminate it as widely as possible.- adrianne.russell adrianne.russell Aug 31, 2011

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project sharing form.