What is an eBook?

Another innocuous tweet last night (below) led to another lengthy, and truly excellent, exchange on Twitter around the merits, format, value, and attitude of eBooks.

On the back of my tweet about my latest book project, The Really Useful #EdTechBook, I tweeted that I am disappointed at how little is written or published about, or by, technical or academic self-publishers:

It's disappointing how little is written about technical or academic #ebook self-publishing. Indicative of none happening? #EdTechBook

This prompted a short exchange with @AliceandRachel from Contented.com who showed me that they do, indeed, publish ebooks on technical topics. But I got on my high horse again and pointed out that a PDF is not an eBook (sorry girls).

Yes, a PDF is electronic, and it is effectively an electronic copy of a book, therefore an eBook. But, for me, this is not an eBook as a PDF is not scalable. To read a PDF you often have to zoom in to make the text bigger, therefore you will have to scroll left-right to read each line, then scroll up-down to read. To turn the page you’ll need to zoom out before you can turn over.

Counter this to a scalable, eBook formatted text (in either EPUB or MOBI or text format) you’ll see the difference. You can change the font size and the text on the screen/page scales to fit. Page numbers are no longer valid in eBooks: the same book on my Kindle may be longer than on yours as you have smaller text to read than me. Kindle books have location.

The conversation continued with Derek Moore and Chris Rowell – we looked at the merit of academics writing and publishing their own book, and why they don’t. Is it due to lack of interest, lack of technical know-how, lack of ambition, or that a self-published work does not carry the perceived integrity a book from an established (sic) publisher. Is a self-published tome of more or less value than one that has been produced according to a publisher’s preference (one that fit’s their portfolio rather than one that fit’s the subject knowledge and specialism)? Can a self-published work be submitted as part of the REF process (Research Excellence Framework) – I think not? Is this enough to put teachers and academics off from a self-published, academic piece of work? What would make it a worthwhile enterprise for teachers to write that book?

This is something I am investigating, on the side, with The Really Useful #EdTechBook. By inviting respected authors to write about their own experiences and perceptions, does this prove to be a less valid or lesser quality work just because it hasn’t been prepared by someone like Wiley or Routledge? Just because it is not a full-on academic volume with thousands of references and formatting to match, peer reviewed to the n-th degree, this-and-that house-style applied, does not invalidate the quality of the work contained. Considering the level of communication and collaboration going on between the authors I invited to help with #EdTechBook I would argue the peer-review process is as high as on any other ‘publisher’-led book I’ve been involved in,  if not higher!

This will be available in both paper and electronic format.

I know I welcome your thoughts on this, and Derek and Chris would as well.

Image source: Darren Harmon (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)