In case you didn’t follow Apple’s Education day as it happened, here is a summary: http://tinyurl.com/85fxh6y Basically Apple is providing tools that make it easy to create enhanced ebooks — but these can only be bought and sold through the iStore — and is getting into the e-textbook business, working with several major textbook publishers. On the one hand, you and I — individual authors, illustrators, editors, but also teachers, and librarians — can easily create materials that make use of text, sound, art, animation, video, etc. This has the potential to be terrific. On the one hand, it now becomes much easier for anyone to jump into the pool, get into the game of creating enhanced books — from an author who always imagined his/her books with this or that digital enhancement, to the teacher whose syllabus can now take digital flight, to the small or large textbook house which can all the more easily re-envision how to deliver lessons to students.
The Times article mentions several cautions about how this will work out. But I would add another — which relates to the kerfuffle this week between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. It is one thing to say that any of us can now easily and inexpensively start creating enhanced ebooks. It is quite another to figure out the rights to all of the enhancements. Where is this video, audio, animation, illustration going to come from? Sure there are wonderful resources such as the Library of Congress. But to me this e-opportunity is also a rights crunch. To really be a land rush into new forms of experiment, we need to redefine how we clear and pay for rights permissions — for books like ours that will continue to have small budgets. Sure some creators can make their own art, and some books will do fine with what is easily available to the general public, some books will be personal and make use of the treasures of the family attic or the school yearbook — imagine an e-yearbook that includes audio and video of and by the students, sound clips from student poetry readings, home video of a clutch basket at a big game, and an embedded facebook page (I am making this up, not sure what is actually possible) where instead of signing a print copy, each student can sign in to the page (or decide not to).
There are concerns. But, friends, the message is clear: experiment, experiment, experiment. I suspect that nearly everything you or I can create easily with these new tools will be a financial failure. The world is not beating a path to our doors — or through the wilds of the iBookstore — to see what our enhanced ebooks. Most likely, we will be ignored. But we will learn — learn how to do it better next time, learn what more we need to know, learn how to direct and advise large publishers when they do (or stall and do not) consider creating their own enhanced e-versions of our books. We will learn by doing — every librarian with a teen reading group, should experiment with creating some enhanced ebook out of their common discussions and interests; every author with a gleam in his or her eye — Go Try, Friends, Go Try. That is what I plan to do.