The iPad’s iBooks application may or may not become our e-reader of choice – even uber-fanboy David Pogue seems a mite skeptical this morning – but the model of book reading (and hence book writing) the iPad promotes seems fated, in time, to become the dominant one. The book itself, in this model, becomes an app, a multihypermediated experience to click through rather than a simple sequence of pages to read through. To compete with the iPad, the current top-selling e-reader, Amazon’s Kindle, will no doubt be adding more bells and whistles to its suddenly tired-seeming interface. Already, Amazon has announced it will be opening an app store for the Kindle later this year. “People don’t read anymore,” Steve Jobs famously said, and the iPad emanates from that assumption.
John Makinson, the CEO of publishing giant Penguin Books, is thrilled about the iPad’s potential to refresh his company’s product line. “The definition of the book itself seems up for grabs,” he said at a recent media industry powwow. Unlike traditional e-book readers, which had a rather old-fashioned attachment to linear text, the iPad opens the doors to incorporating all sorts of “cool stuff,” Makinson continued. “We will be embedding audio, video and streaming into everything we do.” He foresees sprinkling movie clips among Jane Austen’s paragraphs in future editions of “Pride and Prejudice.” No need to conjure up a picture of Lizzie Bennet in your own mind; there’s Keira Knightley stomping through the grounds of Netherfield, cute as a mouse button.
Makinson gave a preview of the post-book book, which seems unsurprisingly toylike:
A sentence from The Shallows may be pertinent here: “When a printed book is transferred to an electronic device connected to the Internet, it turns into something very like a Web site.” Makinson’s presentation leads Peta Jinnath Andersen, of PopMatters, to ask, “What makes a book a book?” A book, she concludes, is just “a delivery system” for text, and one delivery system is as good as another: “How the words are delivered doesn’t matter.” A stone tablet is a scroll is a wax tablet is a scribal codex is a printed book is a Kindle is an iPad. And yet history shows us that each change in the physical form of the written word was accompanied by a change – often a profound one – in reading and writing habits. If the delivery system mattered so much in the past, are we really to believe that it won’t matter in the future?
Jobs is no dummy. As a text delivery system, the iPad is perfectly suited to readers who don’t read anymore.