The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Are E-Books Shovelware?


Introducing his five-part series BASIC Principles of Online Journalism (discussed last week), Paul Bradshaw notes:

It shouldn’t have to be said that the web is different, but I’ll say it anyway: the web is different. It is not print, it is not television, it is not radio.

So why write content for the web in the same way that you might write for a newspaper or a news broadcast?

Organisations used to do this, and some still do. It was called ‘shovelware’, a process by which content created for another medium (generally print) was ‘shovelled’ onto the web with nary a care for whether that was appropriate or not.

It was not.

With Peter Kent of DNAML recently suggesting  on the O’Reilly TOC blog that publishers treat e-books like software, and many e-books just digitalized versions of their print edition, are e-books falling into the category of  ‘shovelware’?

Certainly trade publishers have tended to think of the e-book as a ‘format’ a cheaper, more convenient way to read text than an ordinary book that requires little amendment rather than an entirely different ‘medium’ with new rules and possibilities.

Andrew Gallix, editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine mulled some of this over in The Guardian last week:

Bar a few notable exceptions (Penguin’s wiki-novel or We Tell Stories project), traditional publishers have used the internet as a glorified marketing tool providing them with new ways of flogging the same old same old: e-books, Sony Readers, digi-novels, slush-pile outsourcing… So far, the brave new world of digital literature has been largely anti-climatic…

I don’t think you  don’t need to embrace Gallix’s avant-garde e-lit leanings or see e-books as completely detached from print to appreciate that if they simply reproduce what’s already available, e-books are not really reaching their potential.

At the very least, authors and publishers should consider how the digital reading experience differs from that of print, whether this is producing new texts specifically intended to be published as e-books, or providing additional digital content for existing texts.

Thinking about Bradshaw’s  principles brevity, adaptability, scannability, interactivity, community, and conversation seem like a good place to start.

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