Fixed-layout ebooks will be unsellable within two years

I talk to other publishers regularly, and when it comes to adapting their back-catalogs into ebooks, there’s a trend I’m seeing that worries me – especially in the context of their rich-media titles, by which I mean coffee-table photo books.

They’re converting their books in fixed layout . (Usually as PDFs, but there are other fixed formats as well.)

I suspect that their strong preference for fixed layout ebooks is because that conversion process preserves as much of the original design aesthetic as possible, with a minimal investment. When costss are part of the equation (as they are for most publishers) I would agree that fixed layout seems to provide the most economical way to get the content into digital form.

Or does it? Taking this route has an enormous hidden cost in the longer run. Want to know what it is?

Cultural irrelevance.

Some publishers and authors out there are investing more of their time and energy now to explore the new potentials offered by digital books. Granted, their conversions are going to be much more expensive in the short term, but their finished product is going to be much, much more engaging on the ebook platforms than their statically converted competition. I predict that statically converted rich-media ebooks (i.e. coffee-table photo books) will be essentially unsellable within 2 years.

Why? Let’s look at a similar example from early in the last century – the beginning of cinema. At that time, some playwrights and theatrical production companies tried to adapt their back-catalogs by placing a camera at the back of the audience and filming a performance. They did this believing that those who went to movie houses wanted to reproduce the experience of watching live performances of Barrymore or Redgrave or any one of the other great performers and companies from the major centers.

But they were wrong.

What they failed to realize was that film was a new medium, not just a cheap way to reproduce and distribute the old one. The young film Turks emerged and moved the camera around during performances, they edited scenes from several good performances into one fabulous performance, they invented hand-drawn animation, musical scores, fading-to-black, panning, zooming, and on and on and on.

One only has to look at “Our Choice” to see that the young Turks are at it again, and that ebooks are not just a quick and easy way to replicate the coffee-table book experience. It is a whole new paradigm, with entirely new features and capabilities.

Worse, everything is happening five times faster today than it was for the film industry.┬áIt took 10 whole years for the “static camera at the back of the theater” filming technique to die out, but even with 10 years of production, how many of those films do we consider classics today? Not one.

That’s why I say that 2 years from now, the market will be flooded with Turk-books, and by comparison to those, the static books will be relegated to the museum of quaint mis-steps in the ebook gold rush. Any such book still wanting a place in your catalog will need to be completely redesigned.

In Turkish.

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.