David Byrne on the perils of ebooks and developing enhanced editions

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 21 November 2012
“Why Amazon doesn't configure their own devices (that can play video and audio) to display enhanced eBooks and thus show the capabilities of this medium is a complete mystery.” - David Byrne

Sounds like David Byrne has been having a tough time developing an enhanced ebook version of his “How music works”.

Back in September he blogged some of the frustrations in development:

“We want to get it working on as many of the current devices as possible—like the Color Nook and Kindle for iPad app. It’s been an incredibly frustrating experience, and we’re not out of the woods yet. These companies all created their own proprietary formats—both to try to lock you into buying from their stores and (probably at the insistence of big publishers) to make it really, really hard to share or lend a book to a friend, as one often does with physical books. That’s sad, as gifting is both an important kind of social glue, and it also helps spread the word of mouth about books that folks fall in love with. Like mix tapes, they turn readers on to books they didn’t know about.

Amazon won’t allow side-loading a file on a Kindle, even for our testing purposes—instead they have created a desktop application called Kindle Preview which is supposed to show you how your file will look and work on their various devices. It does this fine with the typefaces and page flows and images, but as far as the music goes it refuses to cooperate—and the support folks for this are nowhere to be found. Hell, this is the perfect way to show what their devices can do!”

Just now he has emailed out an announcement of the launch—again with an explanation of some of the travails of the publishing process, and also some broader thoughts on society’s conversion from analogue to digital:

“I like eBooks. I like physical books, too. It’s sad to watch bookstores disappear as more and more folks buy their books online or read eBooks and rarely visit a bookstore. What will be lost and what have we gained in this process? We’ve definitely gained convenience—as we did with MP3s. I can carry hundreds of eBooks on my device, as well as newspapers and some magazines. I like the elimination of clutter

I like that I can highlight sentences in an eBook and then they appear on a web page so my ‘note taking’ is made very easy. I read a lot of nonfiction, so highlighting is part of the fun, and this little bit of technology makes it easier.

Books, when well made and beautifully designed, are lovely to hold and behold. There is pleasure in reading a well designed book. A little bit of beauty is added to one’s life—something that can’t be measured in terms of pure information. I also have a funny feeling that, like much of our world that is disappearing onto servers and clouds, eBooks will become ephemeral. I have a sneaking feeling that like lost languages and manuscripts, most digital information will be lost to random glitches and changing formats.”

Interesting thoughts from someone who is always interesting to listen to.

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