So on one of today’s Metatopia panels, I happened to be talking about e-books and electronic publishing. I get the impression that I was on several panels at the con to carry the flag for the reactionary, old-school aesthetic, as I’m not what one might call leading the vanguard when it comes to electronic publishing options.
But I suppose having a counterpoint to the perspective that says “all information should be free! Put it in as many electronic formats as possible, and loose them all into the wild!” is a valuable one. I am not a member of the Rising Tide.
That said, I did come out of the panel with several insights and thoughts on the subject.
First, I had not considered the fact that turning off the copy-paste function on my own pdfs makes it nigh-unto impossible for the vision-impaired to use a screen reader to read the files aloud. I am told, however, that the multi-column formatting of the files makes that more difficult than it might otherwise be. Which brings me to…
Second, I am giving serious consideration to offering my books in a .mobi or .epub format, if I can find the proper venue. If for no other reason than to accommodate those who need something that is much closer to a plain text format for reasons of accessibility.
Third, and most important from my point of view, I would like to see pdfs (and other electronic formats that can handle such things) really embrace the functionalities that set them apart from print books. To be frank, I have little interest in pandering to every hipster who has an e-reader that requires some odd proprietary format just so he can have the same book on all 19 devices he owns. But when you start talking about including multimedia capabilities into the files, and actually integrating the nature of electronic books into a game, then I start to get interested.
Imagine a book where the examples of play are actually links to YouTube videos showing a group playing the game at the table, with integrated graphics to call out the mechanics. Where combat diagrams are animated .gif files. Where an adventure is contained in four pdf files, three of which are password protected, and the players need to get to a certain point in the adventure before the others are unlocked. Changes await both the players and the GM. Layering that allows someone to customize a rulebook by picking and choosing rule elements. The possibilities are enormous, and growing with the technology.
Although nothing will ever in my mind replace the visceral experience of holding a physical book in my hand, and I will almost always prefer that format to an electronic book in my own reading and gaming, I do recognize that e-books offer opportunities that dead tree books don’t. I lament the trend to replace real books with e-books, because but most such efforts are merely replacing paper with electrons and whose benefits are offset by the advantages, in my opinion.
I am, however, excited at the prospect that e-books offer new and more vibrant and immersive experiences that regular books cannot. Perhaps “e-book” is in this case a misnomer. In that sense, I do not see the one as replacing the other so much as offering an alternative, just as television is an alternative to radio, but radio still endures for a number of really good reasons.