What Users of eReaders Need

Source: A New Kind of Book, Jul 2012

In an age of Information Overload, readers don’t need more; they need help.

we should instead think about where print fails to solve readers’ needs. By keeping a simple question in mind regarding any enhancement — what’s it for? — I think we can create digital books that are superior to print in some really tangible ways.

Here are five different areas that offer some reader-friendly opportunities.

Comprehension

Memory

A key part of understanding a book’s meaning lies in remembering what the text says. We draw conclusions and pass judgements only when we’re able to stash away mental nuggets: a character’s actions, events in a country’s history, and so on. … Why not, instead, think about instrumenting books so they help us remember?

Interpretation

Relevance

It’s also worth thinking about designing books that expand and contract in response to how much time a reader has. In other words, think about providing an executive summary for readers who want a quick take versus the unabridged edition for those ready to do a deep dive.

 Maybe you browse a cookbook at night, in bed, for ideas. But when it’s shopping time the recipe’s ingredient list would be much more helpful at the grocery store. Especially with reference and how-to books the ability to export key nuggets is a huge advantage that digital books can offer.

Email-ready ingredient lists are by now a pretty familiar feature in digital cookbooks. The How to Cook Everythingapps add a nice twist. Many recipes come with a bunch of variations built in: use zucchini or summer squash oreggplant.

The iPad app edition of "How to Cook Everything"

Decide which ingredient option you like and the choice ends up in your portable shopping list.

Little radio buttons next to each of these choices let you pick the option you want. The ingredient you choose is what gets dispatched to your emailed shopping list. Nice.

Jamie Oliver’s cookbook app, Jamie’s Recipes, has a nice feature for iPad-using cooks when they’re in the kitchen. There, your hands are often greased up or wet, making it tough to swipe or tap the screen to move through a recipe’s steps.  The app’s solution is a little mic icon which, when tapped, lets you say “Next” or “Previous” for hands-free operation. It’s super useful.

Another example in this category comes from the iBirdline of apps. These field guides have a wonderful collection of bird vocalization recordings. This audio does double duty: helping at-home browsers study up on what’s out there, and serving as a lure out in the field. The app is both teacher and tool, helping attract the attention of birds you want to photograph.

So. Five different ways that digital books can address specific reader needs: comprehension, memory, interpretation, relevance, and extraction/action. If you think about the Kindle’s success, a big reason is how the device and the buying process solve a very specific problem for serious readers: having something to read when and where we want it.

Why haven’t enhanced ebooks taken off in a similar way? I think a big barrier lies in the way we’ve approached this whole question of what to add. It’s time to stop thinking about what our devices make possible and instead focus on what readers need.

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