Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thoughts on e-books

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.


Gort's Friend said...

I've been around computers long enough that I now assume that more complex something is, the less staying power it will have. I spent a lot of time contemplating formats for some genealogy work I'd been doing and came to the conclusion, based on having to reconstitute older documents, that any specialized format would likely be obsolete by the time another generation or two passed and someone was interested in the subject again. That is, I had to research early 20th century genealogy to puzzle out some of what were fairly well researched records.

So I went as basic and varied as possible. I put a lot of stuff into txt documents because they're a basic building block, but also saved documents in other ways as well. There is simply no real way to predict what happens in twenty years. House fires, floods, or EMPs are all possible. For instance will the cloud still be up and running or will it be the victim of some as yet to be imagined systemic crash?

So while I can imagine a well crafted hyperbook (they've been promising them for years now and failing), I'm reminded of the materials I once made for my Apple II or TI, which only exist now on some yellowing printouts. I remember the trouble I had transferring files, after a period of changes. So, I imagine that in a few years, half the links would be dead or replaced by sites advertising Viagra.

Yes I know I'm being a bit silly, comparing a gaming book to great art, but one of the questions of art has always been making it last for the ages. The reason why stone carving was more important than mud, if you get my metaphor.

The Degenerate Elite said...

I like pdfs that take advantage of layers and menu systems that pdfs make possible.

Hyperlinks, even online, area n annoyance. If you example requires a video then you need to reconsider how complex your example is getting. They are utterly useless, 4 or 5 years later when the hosting site has changed or deleted material.

An actual gameplay video would be cool, but can be accomplished just a link off your website.

Print books, and print paperwork, will not be replaced in our lifetimes.

I print 60,000 pages on insurance crap that must be in hardcopy for IRS records each night to confirm that.

Sean Fitz said...

I am slowly adopting e-books but tend to find myself going to POD versions eventually anyhow. I am concerned that with more rich content entering the pdfs the more lag there will be however. Turning pages with my devices when viewing a pdf can be pretty annoying sometimes (delays).

The idea of cool content like that being possible is really great. But I don't want authors to loose sight of the fact that it must also be a pleasant reading experience as well especially when you are trying to thumb through pages quickly for a rule item, like you would with a dead tree book.

Martim said...

IMHO, there are 2 dimensions in the way e-books are into the book industry.

The first is accessibility. For any person who want to read public domain classics is great. You can get all Arabian Nights, Wizard of oz books, and so many more in any part of the world without getting poor. And there are thousands of books that publishers do not care to publish anymore. -There is also a trend of print-on-demand.

The second is the format itself. ebooks are very much the pocket format of our time. They are great for students, great for having a simple version of your favourite rpg with you all the time. A printed manual is better just because the way you can manipulate pages and check stuff quickily.

Currently Epub is the world most popular choise. PDF is very much a PC format. It's not so good for ebooks due its lack of ability to adapt to different devices screens and zoom levels. -There are some converters but the results are below average.

My personal opinion. Printed: full version. EPUB: Pocket version. PDF: Short (active screens are not good for reading)PC interactive version.

Blacksteel said...

I still like to have printed books to pass around the table for player-oriented things like rules and class or race books. For adventures and DM-only books like monster manual/bestiaries I am becoming pretty comfortable with electronic-only versions.

Something as basic as hyperlinking the rules within themselves is a nice benefit to an electronic version that is underutilized even today.

I would be interested in some video or animations, especially for more complex games or those that take an unorthodox approach. As mentioned above the hosting sites or technology could change but if the reference is in an electronic book then that reference could easily be updated as well if the need arose.

schedim said...

I have seen several boardgames where you had links to youtube videos explaining finer points of the rules. If they are well made they are gold worth when you are a non-native speaker of english and the rules are not totally pedagocially presented, if you catch my drift.
It was also perfect for the boardgaming get together, the host send a link introducing the proposed game and its basics. Everyone arrived with a basic knowledge of the game and we got to play in record time with a omly a short introduction to sort out some questions and such.
Sooo how do that relate to RPGs then? I'm not totally sure, but one thought is that you could have a short presentaion of general knowledge for players, a (3D rendering?) map pointing out landmarks and such, because that is the fricking most difficult thing for me as a gamemaster to make (some) players to read. A tiny tiny amount of background (with its possibilities of forshadowing etc etc) is such a powerful tool in gamemastering but it is soo dependent on players interest in and time to read. 3 minutes of video would make a huge difference I think.