Spicing Up Your Book Experience: The New Preview Feature

To create a book on Wikipedia is easy: all it takes is to start the book creator and add the Wikipedia articles you want to see in your book. Until now, when you wanted to have your book printed and were directed to the PediaPress website, all you had was a basic book preview that allowed you to take a peek at your book, but didn't really give you the feel of the book.

We've improved the book preview recently, and here is the rundown of the new features we have introduced, namely, a book preview that gives you a real life experience of what your book will end up looking like.

When you arrive on the PediaPress page that allows you to give the final touch to your book (adding the right title, subtitle and editor's name, as well as choosing the cover image), you will see a link just under your book, which asks you to click to preview (actually, you can click anywhere on the book to open the preview). In the old preview, this link opened to an image showing the inside of your book on one page. Good, but not good enough. We have revamped the preview feature and changed a few things that needed a little novelty.

When you click on the cover to fire up the preview, the first thing you see is the cover. Maximized and in color, it gives you a better impression of what your book will look like when you hold it in your hands. You can then navigate the book with right and left arrows, which appear when you hover over the edge of the cover (example below)

The content preview is based on the first few articles (pages) of your book. The former preview that showed one page after another was replaced by a spread of both right and left pages, giving you a better feel of what the typesetting looks like for real. It gives a better sense of use of space and picture placement in the finished book.

Only the first 50 pages of your book are previewed. The first ones, numbered with Roman Numerals, are the Table of Contents, which shows you how many pages the book is going to have. When you click on one page, you are taken to the next page (right page goes forward, left page goes backward). The last pages of the preview are the last pages of the book, giving you a sample of the Appendix which comes at the end of the book and presents:

* Article Sources and Contributors * Image Sources, Licenses and Contributors * Index (series of keywords extracted from the body of articles)

Thanks to our new book preview, you now have a good look of the book on your screen and you can better imagine how it will look like in your hands.

Time for you to make a new book to try it out!


The Book, the eBook and the Future

As Wired proclaimed the death of the web, it struck me that many times over the years, I had read articles about how the paper book was dead, or about to die. It took only a Google search to find that the headlines proclaiming or questionning the death of the traditional (read: paper) publishing industry are legion. Since it is a topic that touches us closely, I thought I'd share my findings and some thoughts with you.

Amazon Kindle eBook Reader

Of the many "The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book" entries I found on the internet, I found two to be of particular interest. They date back to 2006, times when the Kindle, iPad and other such digital reading devices didn't exist for the layman, except maybe in the dreams of a few techies who were working on them. The first one is one by Jeff Jarvis, entitled...well, "The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book". Jarvis in his post addresses the question of digital over paper, which at the time was a threat looming upon the horizon, and focuses on content, arguing that most of the most successful books are simply badly written. He ends his post on these words:

I’m waiting for someone to lament that these kids today don’t read. But they read a lot. They may not read books as much and they may read their share of inspipid personal pages, but they also can now find and read information that is more relevant to them and that is recommended by people they trust thanks to the technology of the internet. I think — or, to be more accurate, I hope — that this will lead to more of a true meritocracy of writing. Good writing will rise. Bad writing may still be on the airport newsstand shelves. But then, when you’re braindead on a six-hour flight, sometimes a braindead book is still just what you need.

A day later, Stephen Baker in Business Week reacts to Jarvis' post, and defends books, arguing that he'd:

take a book over any of the interactive tools they’re building at MIT or Disney. Books give you access to great minds of the past, and they do a better job than any other medium I know of transporting you to those times and places.

That's a snippet of the debate back in 2006. What does this conversation look like today? Still searching, I stumbled upon two much more recent posts, written in the past week. First an extremely interesting post by Carly Z, asking "Is the Paper Book Dead?. Carly Z addresses a broad range of areas where the eBook has to come together before it can really take over the paper book, from pricing to format, content and audience. I recommend the read, it's a good one. In the end, I tend to agree with Carly Z in the conclusion of the post:

Honestly, I think the various declarations of “Print is dead in 5 years/10 years/already dead” are missing the broader picture. There are many moving pieces to making digital books dominant, and they aren’t as simple as “prices go down/availability goes up”. Consumers need to be comfortable with ebooks, the content and hardware need to work well together, and the most important part is remembering that just because ebooks may become dominant does not mean paper books are going to disappear.

Another post by Om Malik caught my attention. Titled (again!) "The Book is Dead! Long Live the Book!" touches upon his experience of slowly shifting to eBooks, mainly for practical reasons but most importantly how:

Internet connectivity and multimedia capabilities give us an opportunity to rethink what a book is, and even re-imagine the art of storytelling.

All of these reflexions got me thinking. Here at PediaPress, we bring digital content (wikis!) to paper. I won't hide that we've been thinking (and asked, by some people) about also offering eBooks made from wiki content. We still haven't gotten around to it. We might, or we might not. I see PediaPress' adventure as one that bridges the digital and the paper world. Our content is written, amended, updated and rewritten by you all, which makes it an ever shifting content. With this I guess we transcend Jeff Jarvis' lamentations on the quality of content, since the content of our books can change when it's needed, or deemed obsolete. Our books don't fit the definition Jarvis gives:

[Books] are frozen in time without the means of being updated and corrected. They have no link to related knowledge, debates, and sources.

Because books from wikis are of a different nature. They are rather a picture than a freeze, something like what Polaroid is to traditional photography. You can make your book, and remake it a year later, jsut to see the changes in the topic you've chosen.

The content being online to start with, they actually do give links and sources and you could even print the talk pages of Wikipedia if you wanted to follow the debate on a topic.

Although we don't exactly print out books that do storytelling in the strict sense of the term, our books tell stories of how knowledge evolves. And the sum of human knowledge, at that.

I am also still convinced that nothing replaces paper when it comes to annotations (ah, the feeling of conversing with the author that writing an exclamation mark with a pen in the paper margin gives!), personalisation (nothing compares to giving a paper book rather than send a pdf, I think), or to some extent, practicality (book on the beach, losing your book, taking your book in places where a Kindle or an iPad wouldn't survive...).

I guess I am biased. After all, we do paper books. But I'm curious what you all think. What's your take on the future of the paper book? Should we also go digital? Why do you even create and buy PediaPress books? Does paper have for you the same attraction that it has for us? Tell us in the comments.

[photo source: Amazon Kindle eBook Reader by goXunuReviews, on Flickr, CC-BY]