Skimming on the digital side

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers’ project “Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder's Guide to Digital Books.” We’ll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It’s republished with permission.)


The iPad and other touchscreen devices seem perfect for replicating the page flip. After all, one of the first gestures users “get” is the swipe: it’s intuitive, it’s quick, it’s fun. And despite the power packed into today’s tablets, virtual page flipping isn’t as useful as its print counterpart. For starters, paging speed is noticeably slower than what you get with a wet pointer finger and the latest issue of, say, People.

A bigger problem lies with a common digital publishing culprit: trying to faithfully replicate all the “features” of print. A regular magazine has pages, the thinking goes, so by golly we’re gonna reproduce pages in the digital edition. Lotsa problems with that approach, but for this post let’s tackle the “filmstrip”-style page-browser found in many e-magazines. Consider Fortune’s, for example:

Fortune's Page Viewer icons
The “Page Viewer” icons are too small to deliver useful info

What the average eye can easily decipher in each of these thumbnails is close to, approximately, zero. And once you decide you don’t want to read, say, the article about Twitter, why the heck do you have to page through each of the article’s other unhelpful icons? The system, in other words, replicates the act of browsing without delivering its essential benefit. You get none of the come-hither signals that are easy to spot on a print page: headlines, pull quotes, pictures, sidebars, and so on.

App designers, my suggestion: don’t throw the browser out with the bath water. Instead, a little redesign can satisfy the reader’s desire to skim quickly and dive in when something looks worthwhile. A few suggestions:

One icon per article is sufficient

Print-based page flipping is how we readers solve what is, at heart, an information architecture problem: most magazines order their contents in a way that doesn’t match our preferred reading path. So we flip to find the juiciest, most satisfying bits. In an app, then, swiping through page icons isn’t the best way to aid that quest.

How about, instead, article representations—let's call ‘em blurbs—that quickly convey what the piece is about? Something, in other words, like what you get in a table of contents (e.g. title + quick summary). Wired, for example, uses a horizontally-scrolling system:

Wired's horizontally scrolling TOC
Wired magazine’s horizontally scrolling TOC is pretty useful

A useful blurb at the top of the screen lets you know what the article or ad is about. And the size of the replica that hangs below the blurb signals the length of what you’re in for. Nice.

Similar options exist, many of which don’t require the creation of new material. How about, for example, bundling up and making swipeable each article’s nut graf and a great pullquote? Or the article’s best art (an image, say) with the title super-imposed using compelling typography? (The Bold Italic magazine, a current events guide to San Francisco, sorta/kinda does this in their app.) Or even simply reproducing the article’s title page with the headline’s font bumped up for easier viewing.

No need to replicate the trim size of the printed page

The current approach in most page browsers is to offer up page miniatures that replicate the aspect ratio of the print magazine’s dimensions. Why? Probably because designers wish to replicate the experience of reading the print edition. (Not to mention the fact that thumbnails are easy to generate.) But the essential service readers are looking for has nothing to do with trim size; it’s about quickly scanning big chunks of info and deciding where to spend our reading time.

That purpose can be better served by making the scannable units large enough to deliver meaningful info. So bump up the thumbnail to, say, a rectangle and give that headline it contains more room to breathe; you can even, then, include an image. Even better: have the blurb container’s size reflect the importance of the article within the magazine. A jumbo rectangle, for example, could be used to showcase an important feature while a smaller square would indicate a shorter piece. Here’s a quick example:


multi-shaped article example

Click to enlarge.

Expand and reveal

Apple has added a neat-o feature to its iPad Photos app. You’ve probably seen it: you spread your fingers over any photo stack icon to temporarily reveal the other pictures beneath it. If you did the same for each browsable icon representing an article, you’d give article browsers a chance to peek at individual pages before committing. Another option: let users control the size of the page-browsing icons. Popular Mechanics uses this approach.

Popular Mechanics' sizing handle
The sizing handle on the right lets readers adjust the page icons’ size (click to enlarge).

See those little icon-size controls (the four stacked lines on the right side of the page browser)? You can drag them up or down to change the size from jumbo to skinny mini.

Got any examples you like of digital page-browsing solutions? Let me know (peter.meyers AT gmail DOT com) and I’ll add them right here.

Related:

[from sentinelle] Amazon multiplie les annonces concernant les ebooks

Amazon n'a jamais autant annoncé de nouveautés que ces dernières semaines. Il semble très clair que la marque accélère. Beaucoup de choses sont en cours et en préparation chez le n°1 mondial de l'ebook.

Depuis un peu plus d'une semaine, les annonces s'enchaînent chez Amazon, au point qu'on ne parle plus que de la marque Américaine lorsqu'on parle ebooks. Mais au vu des news qui tombent en ce moment, c'est plutôt justifié. Manifestement, Amazon a préparé beaucoup de choses ces derniers temps, et cherche manifestement à conforter sa position de leader du marché.


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[from sentinelle] Bragelonne : 20 000 livres électroniques vendus en deux mois | eBouquin

Fin Novembre, les éditions Bragelonne annonçaient la commercialisation de leur catalogue en numérique. Avec, dés le lancement, près de 100 ouvrages au format ePub, vendus entre 2,99€ et 12,99€ sans DRM et distribués par l’intermédiaire des principaux e-libraires (Fnac, iBookstore, ePagine, Immatériel), l’éditeur spécialisé dans la littérature de l’imaginaire, avait mis toutes les chances de son côté pour se lancer sereinement à la conquête du marché du livre électronique.

Et il semblerait que les choix effectués aient porté leurs fruits, puisque deux mois seulement après le début de l’aventure, les éditions Bragelonne ont annoncé avoir vendu plus de 20 000 livres électroniques.

Des chiffres très encourageants donc, qui viennent récompenser l’absence de DRM et la politique de prix agressive de l’éditeur. Des chiffres qui viennent confirmer qu’en présence d’une offre légale attractive, la demande est bel et bien là, et disposée à rémunérer auteur et éditeur pour un livre électronique.


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What to expect in EPUB3

Just as publishers are wrapping their heads — and workflows — around the current version of EPUB, a new release is scheduled for May. The EPUB3 draft is set to publish for comment later this month, giving publishers and developers their first blush at what the release will mean to them.

In the following interview, Bob Kasher, business development manager for integrated solutions at Book Masters and a member of the International Digital Publishing Forum EPUB Working Group, highlights some of the changes the new version will bring to the publishing industry. Kasher is scheduled to speak in depth on EPUB3 at February’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York.


What are some of the major changes EPUB3 will bring to digital publishing?

Bob KasherBob Kasher: There are three key areas EPUB3 is focused around: language support, greater accessibility, and increased multimedia support. Language support will allow EPUB3 to save and search non-Roman scripts — such as Japanese, Chinese and Arabic — as font characters rather than JPEGs, as in current EPUB support. This will make a much broader range of literature available to current and future reading devices from base EPUB files. It will truly internationalize EPUB.

EPUB3 will also be better at integrating the current DAISY accessibility standards, to help make reading devices of greater usefulness to visually impaired readers.

EPUB3 will be much more adept at supporting multimedia capabilities for both HTML5-based devices and the coming generation of tablets supporting both Flash and HTML5. It is hoped that in doing so, EPUB3 will help develop an enhanced ebook standard that can be used across a variety of media and content.

Other developments include enhanced metadata support for discoverability, better facilitation support for touchscreen devices, and support for MathML, which we hope will open up greater opportunities for textbook publishers. EPUB3 will be a quantum leap forward in capabilities for future device support, but still backward compatible with current devices on the market.

TOC: 2011, being held Feb. 14-16, 2011 in New York City, will explore “publishing without boundaries” through a variety of workshops, keynotes and panel sessions.

Save 15% on registration with the code TOC11RAD

Will EPUB3 bring any digital rights management changes?

Bob Kasher: DRM is still optional, and DRM formatting will still be flexible as far as being wrapped with EPUB. There will be no changes in that area.

How will EPUB3 change ereaders and apps?

Bob Kasher: That depends on where content creators take it. As EPUB3 will be backward compatible, it will be usable on current devices, so there won’t be any immediate need for change. However, as new devices open up greater opportunities for readers to access elements not readily available on devices like the Kindle or Kobo or Nook, it will propel accessibility to these attributes in the next generation of ereaders.

With an estimated 80+ new tablet products coming to market this year, I foresee an increasing consumer interest for app-like products that can be accessed through general distribution sites rather than as individual apps.

When will EPUB3 be released? Is the publishing world ready?

Bob Kasher: The draft is being readied for comment and release this month, and we hope to have the final version publicly proclaimed by Book Expo America in May. I think the world will be ready — there is already a lot of testing and development around the product. I fully expect publishers will embrace the re-write quickly and effectively, and we hope it will be one more element fueling the digital transformation of our industry.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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Wp2epub

wp2epub generate epub files, ready to publish! Generate a whole bunch of ebooks for iPad, iPhone and other readers. Just choose the tags, categories or dates to export. It's done. You are now a bloguer and a writer. wp2epub also export in html, and then you can open with a wordprocessor to convert into PDF or other formats. A good way to backup your blog.

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IDPF Standards :: Index

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