An e-book is an electronic book that is usually read on a Kindle or tablet. The advent of e-books means that aspiring authors can now become published authors without negotiating around obstacles such as agents and publishers. You can either use an ecommerce tool to sell your books on your own website, or sell through Amazon. Another sign of the times when it comes to publishing is the fact that Amazon sells more e-books than it does print books.

Almost all e-books start as print books and are then retrofitted into digital form. They are organized in a linear form with a sequence of chapters that are meant to be consumed in order and, in the case of a how-to book, are supported with the occasional photograph or illustration.

However, there is a growing movement that argues that an e-book needs to be “digital first”. Open Air Publishing, which has now been acquired by Inkling, is one among a new generation of digital publishers that recognizes that a print book and a tablet are different media that alter both the message and the experience of the reader. It becomes clear that e-books need to be designed as a digital publication from the outset, rather than an afterthought based on a print version.

All of Open Air’s books are indeed digital first: produced and optimized for the tablet medium. The authors were never encumbered by the weight of what they did before. They just did it the right way for the touch-screen medium the first time. These e-books are interactive and immersive in a way that is impossible with flat text, even if it is digital text. Content becomes more engaging and in this way publishers like Inkling pose a threat to both Amazon and Apple.

Open Air CEO Jon Feldman says that “advice for publishers would be to carve out a digital-first division that would allow them to play in that space… [then] take some digital bestsellers and see if there’s a print version that could be made downstream.”

Marshall McLuhan may have never contemplated an electronic book but he would probably be pleased that there are publishers who are making the distinction.


Roxanne Genier