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Reading - Google Look to the Future, Amazon Look to the Past

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In this day and age, it's far easier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly to publish a book online, rather than in print. The popularity of tablets led to the creation of the Amazon Kindle, and since then eBooks have soared in popularity. Google have now taken that a step further, supporting the release of books which are not only exclusively digital, but could not exist in any other format.

Let me clarify what that means - the books in question contain material that could not work in print, because it either requires the use of touch screen technology or the integration of other apps. Thus far, in what Google are calling 'Editions at Play', there are two short publications available: Reif Larsen's Entrances & Exits and Sam Riviere and Joe Dunthorne's The Truth About Cats & Dogs. The first moves the reader through Google Streetview, discovering new pages of the story as they progress, while the second is actually two intertwining diaries about a schism between collaborating artists, it's up to the reader to decide who gets the greater say. You see the entries being written (and sometimes edited or revised) in front of you.

Buzfeed
This is only the beginning though, Google have made it clear that they're going to continue releasing this kind of material consistently. There are two more due out in April, and the output is likely to increase or at least maintain momentum for a while after that. Google are collaborating with the London-based publisher Visual Editions on it, and they have approached a number of noteworthy creatives for help, including Eli Horowitz, who has developed several interactive and app based pieces of literature, including the children's story The Clock Without a Face and The Silent History, an episodic serial with some parts that would only unlock if the reader passed through the narrative-significant O'Hare airport in Chicago.

Interestingly, while this has been going on, one of the progenitors of digital reading has been pulling in the exact opposite direction. Last November Amazon opened the first Amazon Books in Seattle, and now there's going to be another one in San Diego, along with a further 400 shops in different areas, although it's unclear whether this will spread beyond America or not. It's something of a controversial move, as many long-standing book retailers have languished under Amazon's dominance, leading to a significant reduction in the amount of bookshops not only in America but elsewhere in the world. It could be argued that Amazon have cleared the board, only to put down their own pieces.

More pertinently, one might wonder why Amazon are angling back towards physical, printed books when they helped spearhead the transition over to digital with the Kindle. In short, it's to do with customer relations, online will always be Amazon's principal format, but shops can also contribute to that, acting as delivery stockrooms, pickup points for reserved items and in the future, drone-ports. It also puts a human face on the historically cold, disconnected nature of Amazon, allowing people to actually speak to someone about possible recommendations or other ideas.

The Drum
It also doesn't discount Kindle, in fact it helps. Even if the thing you're purchasing isn't physical, being able to speak to somebody about it will encourage more active purchasing both online and off. That's probably why the running of this initiative has been given to Steve Kessel, who launched the first Kindle. What this really demonstrates is that the reading format isn't moving on, it's just expanding, and Amazon have added showrooms to the list of ways people can engage.

If you really think about it, app-based and online technology have turned reading into one of the most versatile forms of media there is. Reading is such a fundamental building block for computer technology that continued advances will have the added effect of creating new ways to produce literature, fiction or otherwise. Google clearly understand that, as do Amazon, they're just wielding that understanding in different ways.




Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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Reading - Google Look to the Future, Amazon Look to the Past Reviewed by Callum Davies on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 Rating: 5

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