Tonight Emily Carr students presented 5 ebook prototypes developed over the course of this semester in an ebook design course. As the students presented their work, and members of the local business, tech and creative communities responded to them, it was clear that we are grappling with a common set of fundamental questions raised by the emergence of ebooks. Here are the 6 crucial questions we need to address as authors, publishers, designers and readers:

  1. How can ebooks take advantage of the design, multimedia or functional opportunities provided by web-enabled tablet devices like the iPad, Android tablet or Kindle Fire?
  2. Does social interaction enhance or distract form the reader experience?
  3. Who is the author of an ebook? The content creator, the editor/curator,the designer or the developer? If the user contributes content, comments or self-directed navigation, is the user an author too?
  4. If you break the page page-turning metaphor, how to you cue the reader/user about how to navigate the book?
  5. What is the ebook equivalent of printing on archival paper? How do you build an ebook to last?
  6. What is the difference between an ebook and a website? What is essential to preserving “bookness”? Does it matter?

It was this last question that most troubled and preoccupied the people in the room. We are eager to pin down the definition of “ebook”, to draw the line between website and app and ebook, or to agree unambiguously to throw these terms out. Our anxiety about defining what makes a book speaks to the value our society places on the traditional codex, and the opportunities (as well as the dangers) that come from transcending it.