15 Responses to Dumb eBooks Must Die, Smart eBooks Must Live

  1. Jason says:


    Terrific post. I found your blog through an RT on Twitter, and I'm hooked!
    I've been arguing that eReaders are not the future. Although I own many of them for our business (Kindle 1, 2, and DX, and the Sony eReader), as a publisher I just don't see the value of delivering my content to the devices, particularly when I've gone through all the trouble of increasing the meta in our publications. With that said, there might be certain things we would do to satisfy a particular market segment, but in the end, the value of our content (of most content) is on the web.
    Thanks again.

  2. Tom Matrullo says:

    Labor intensive, no? Still, seems it would create smarter books, if not smarter readers. Only way it makes sense is, as you suggest, a single standard to cross platforms.

  3. I.A.M. says:

    There's a huge amount of information in that post, and all of it smart, informative, and prompting lots of discussion about the rights to own and/or control that metadata. The end result is, as you point out, a better understanding of anything being read, and a livelier experience for the reader.

    Plus, yes, a fuck of a lot of work. But the end result will make it worthwhile.

    First, however, we gotta convince people that anything other than ink, glue, and paper is desirable. This model might be the way people are convinced.


  4. MCM says:

    I find this endlessly fascinating. How would you envision it working, though? Let me get all geeky for a moment (and please accept the substitute xml tags since I'm pretty sure I can't use the real thing in a comment)…

    1. If the info lived in the cloud, I'm assuming there's be a centralized server of some kind. Something that says "this John Doe is ID# 398381858381". That in itself could get very complicated, and there's the quesiton of who would maintain it, how they would resolve arguments and stuff like that. But let's skip that for now.

    2. Let's assume it's not in the cloud. Let's say the metadata is stored in the tail end of the ebook itself, and referenced in a transparent way by whatever reader is reading it. So now we define John Doe on a book-by-book basis… which means if he evolves between books in a series, the metadata on the earlier story is out of date… but maybe that's ideal, since it would be like spoilers otherwise. Anyway… so we have a giant grid of character, location and maybe selected object/abstraction information too. Anything not fully defined outside the book itself. You could skip describing a toothbrush, but not a fictional company. So that leads me to…

    3. How many times would you link things? Look at this line:
    [p]"What's going on here?" said [char id="314"]John[]char][/p]
    The ID 314 connects to the object ID in the meta file, and pulls the info through. But do you link every instance of the name "John"? Do you link the word "he" when it refers to him? Are we looking at quadrupling the size of every ebook size? Or just the first instance? Or maybe just the first instance in each chapter?

    I think I might try something along these lines for my new project (it could use the metadata anyway)… but the execution will be interesting to explore. Excellent post!

  5. Randolph says:

    As a writer who sells many more eBooks than print books, I think extended metadata is important. There are two key problems, however.

    One: Fiction is written to provide an experience that begins at page one and ends on the last page (for the most part). There are plot twists and other developments in my work that would come up in searches and spoil the experience I'm trying to provide to my readers, for example. There are many other aspects that would be ruined if you didn't read a book linearly.

    Two: For metadata searches to work as you've stated here everyone would have to have open access to eBooks. No one would be able to sell an eBook because it would already be open to the public. Publishers might find another way to make money, they're harder to crush than people give them credit for, kind of like cockroaches, but writers would starve. I make my living selling my eBooks for very reasonable prices (under $8.00 US), and my readers are happy to read them on their mobile phones. I've also never had a complaint about the price.

    Metadata will become an integral part of finding the eBook you want. How we search for literature will change, what we look for in literature may change a little, but there will always be people who want to read a BOOK. That is to say, they'll start at page 1 and finish on the last, not search for one tidbit after another through random volumes that have been made a part of a searchable database that treats fiction, with all it's colour, invention and style like parts of a bloody overgrown encyclopedia.

    Oh, and as for the devices, they're in their infancy. With regard to searchability, most good reader software makes eBooks easily searchable and is linked to a dictionary or encyclopedia so you can do an instant word lookup while reading. They're getting there, but as with any new concept it'll take time. Perhaps you could create a working model of your idea? Sounds like you could become something of a publisher yourself.

  6. Cliff Burns says:

    You covered a lot of ground but your salient points are as well-made as ever. Let's make sure we make eBooks the best they can be, working hard at this, the nascent stage of their development, to realize their full potential X years down the road.

    Keep talkin', Mike, we're listening…

  7. cebperry says:

    I'm frequently frustrated by the quality of ebooks. I balk at paying for them now because I've had such bad experiences with them in the past.

  8. Riven Homewood says:

    Labor intensive? Yes, at first. Eventually this should be fairly easy to automate.

  9. Mike Cane says:

    >>>Labor intensive? Yes, at first. Eventually this should be fairly easy to automate.

    I'll eventually do more posts about this, but your point is correct.

  10. Moriah Jovan says:

    I believe this is the future of indexing and indexers.

    Indexing is an art and a science, and good index creation might be automated somewhat, but the final proof is in a human trained to understand metadata and its importance.

  11. rjnagle says:

    Even if we assumed that a book passage could contain all that metadata, I'm not sure that searchability is that important for most books (especially fiction books).

    People would never search for horror books produced in Los Angelas between 1980 and 1990. (maybe scholars would, but not ordinary readers). They are more likely to have fuzzy criteria in mind. Serendipity is a better value to cultivate, but that involves an element of randomness and social sharing. Perhaps there is more value in user-generated folksonomies than something a creator could provide.

    With regard to Jesus Wept, as a literature buff, i would be most interested in seeing echoes of this sentence in other literary passages. We need a way to collect annotations on a book.

    One more thing. i highly recommend Jack Matthews: BOOKING IN THE HEARTLAND (1986). It's a visionary look at the book.

  12. Kim Dovey says:

    What a breath of fresh air reading this post. Thanks Mike. My query is what about book design. What reader is going to want to go back to just reading a manuscript, even if it’s content rich. Surely a great writer and an innovation publisher, still need a book designer to help capture the reader.

  13. […] As "new connections are formed and new data is added its value increases exponentially," wrote pundit Mike Cane in his post, Dumb Ebooks Must Die Smart Ebooks Must Live. […]

  14. […] of ebooks and shows some examples of the types of metadata that can be included in a book. And The eBook Test has a list of examples of mark-up language that can be used to tag sentences and turn books into […]

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