The No-Platform Book

by Adam on April 18, 2010

It was probably about a year ago, at Tools of Change 2009, where I first heard about the concept of platform agnostic books. While a very confusing term for something relatively simple (at least in theory), the idea of a book without specific media in mind should be top of mind for many publishers as they begin to sign on new authors. As we move more fully into the workings of an XML based model, being able to seamlessly flow the text from the print, to the digital, to the app without a lot of editing between steps will save time, money and errors down the road.

So what is a platform agnostic book?

Simply, it’s a book that isn’t a book at all….the idea being that publishers (and authors) should never be so quick to assume that the first or most prominent iteration of a book will be on paper. In fact, there might be far more success for certain books as digital versions, or iPad/iPhone apps, or audio books, or even websites. At this point, the possibilities are endless and to assume the print is the first and best option is not always the right course.

One of the best examples of why this is becoming a problem in the world of digital is with cross-referencing. For example, in a cookbook, you could have a recipe that asks the reader to jump back to page X and pull out some recipe for a sauce or garnish. In the digital world, this would be a nightmare. Mostly because pages in a digital book rarely exist in the same way they do in print. Especially if we’re dealing with ePub, where text can be made bigger or smaller at the touch of a button. Now what was on page 10 is on page 12 and you won’t find that garnish in the same place it is in the print edition.

Another example, likely most prominent in college textbooks, it to have a bit of text that asks the reader to reference a diagram or chart on the facing page. But in the electronic world, there are no pages. Taking this further still, on a website, the chart might appear below the text, or on another portion of the website all together.

So what to do?

While there may not be an easy way to solve these kinds of issues for our backlist (just meticulous editing and double-checking to get it right), going forward, publishers should engage their authors, make them understand why it’s important that this be carefully considered. One course of action is to develop separate strategies for each medium and then ask authors to plan accordingly for each – in some cases, submitting derivative sections of a manuscript depending on what the medium is that they’re writing for. While this may be a bit of an extra step, it may save additional editing down the road.

Having this kind of open communication between author and publisher early on not only makes it easier to circumvent platform issues, it could also lead to a clearer understanding of expectations around derivative works. While that’s a byproduct of this process, it would only lead to an even richer, more vibrant publishing experience for all involved.

And I bet authors might have some ideas about how to represent their works more fully in the digital world as well…

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: