Search on SLJ.com ....
Subscribe to SLJ
Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Big Challenge for NF in E-Land: Format

One of the main reasons to have a physical convention, not a virtual meeting, is the side conversations that come up naturally but randomly in and around the sessions. As people cluster around the open bar a discussion between two people draws in a third, adds a fourth, and brings in new knowledge that no one could have planned for, but turns out to be really important. That is very much what EBMA aims to offer, and does in fact achieve. So the other day I was talking with a publishing pal who is a good impromptu host, and drew in a friend of his — I did not catch her name — who happened to be expert on the crucial issue facing us in NF for K-12: what fixed format will allow art to flow with text in e-reader land — which, overwhelmingly, is set up for pure print. Case in point, the lack of page numbers on straight text ebooks — since the reader can change the font, the flow of pages changes — so all you get is a “% finished” bar. But what if you need art and text to speak to one another — and, to add to the mess — what if caption and citations are tied to specific pages?

It is not that this is a huge technological hurdle. The people who are developing the next i-wonder can surely address this. But rather it falls into the matter of systems and devices — what will work for a Kindle Fire (Kindle8, http://tinyurl.com/43ux8xz) does not work for a regular Kindle. Kindle8 allows fixed format — art travels with text on the ereader exactly as in print — but only one one device. Epub3 (http://idpf.org/epub/30) so I understand, works across more devices but is not ready for fixed format. Good old fashioned PDF is fixed format, but no one sells it in ebookstores. Apps for the i-universe of course would allow art and text flow (not to speak of new enhancements such as sound, video, and animation) but then you are not talking about taking a print book and making it available in e-format. You a making a big investment in a new product — so you have a nice solution, but to a different challenge, which creates its own new problems.

We — and I am speaking directly about my own experience as an author — we create illustrated NF are in this confused place, where we need to make our books available in e-land, but e-land is fragmented and not totally ready for us. What can we do? The person I met at EBMA had a great handle on what is coming, what is about to be here, I wish I had written it all down. Readers — suggestions, solutions, your ideas? Plunge, wait, release books in a variety of formats? What should we do?