I need to finish revising my book, so this will be quick. Here’s what just went down on Twitter:

An article on Atlantic Tech reviewing a new reading app rubbed me the wrong way, because apparently the writer thinks the marks of a good reading app are that it looks like a print book and allows for sharing.

And then I couldn’t let it go. So instead I said a lot of things on Twitter. Here are some screenshots (read each image from bottom to top):


Specifically, the realm of instructional content could truly be revolutionized if done right:


Lest you think I’m only full of hot air:




A lot of people responded. I’ve spent pretty much the whole day talking with people about this, and I think three people even asked to be hired. I’m putting all this here partly as a reminder to myself that this is important to me, and also as a reminder to myself that it’s important to a lot of people who aren’t me. And also because I’d very much like to continue this conversation.

So tell me, do you buy instructional ebooks (cookbooks, crafts books, etc.)? Do they work for you? Could they work better?

Do you write instructional books? Do you publish them digitally? How’s that work for you? Could it be done better?

4 responses to “Let’s start a DIY-focused digital publishing company.”

  1. Kimberly Hirsh Avatar
    Kimberly Hirsh

    You know I’m in. I do buy instructional ebooks – both cooking and craft. (In fact, I got the ebook of the second Teach Yourself Visually Crochet edition today.) And probably others, too. Most of my ebook buying is nonfiction. They could definitely work better – tapping an image to go to a video demonstrating a technique might be nice; moving back and forth between cooking instructions and the ingredients list with one tap; I’m sure there’s more improvements I could think of if I took the time.

    I also – as you know but others joining us in the conversation might not – am the managing editor for a University’s educational outreach program. Historically, we’ve published tons of instructional resources for K-12 educators to use, both directly in their classroom and to guide them to become more expert professionals. We’re exploring new models for publishing this kind of content. Our two greatest achievements, I think, are a comprehensive NC history textbook and a wonderful series of articles on differentiating instruction. Both of these brought in multimedia elements, and the article series actually included interactivity both in the form of an online professional learning community and webinars with the authors of the articles.

    I’m currently editing a series of articles about improving language arts instruction. The authors and I will be working together to make sure this series takes full advantage of the digital environment. The authors will also be presenting live workshops, and I really hope I can figure out a way to capture that experience for people who can’t physically make it.

    All of that to say: While those are our best work, most of our content is static text or images. There is little opportunity for interaction. Something we’re considering that I think might be especially valuable in any instructional publication would be tools for curation/remixing. In my work, it might look like taking two different activities and creating a new lesson plan from them. In the crafts/how-to world, it might mean grabbing different types of stitches and combining them, adding more instructions to create a new pattern. I guess for me, it really is a read/write world. Publications should work beautifully and easily for people who want to read privately; tools for sharing should also be tools for building/creation, not just making new clickbait. (I guess my ideal publishing company publishes everything under some sort of Creative Commons license?)

    1. Kim Werker Avatar

      “Publications should work beautifully and easily for people who want to read privately; tools for sharing should also be tools for building/creation, not just making new clickbait.”

      YES. You’ve nailed it. I think discussions like these get fixated on things that may not be (or may not *need* to be) relevant – rich media isn’t necessary when thinking about how to do digital reading better. “Better digital publications” doesn’t necessarily mean videos or audio or schmancy functionality. It could simply mean being able to navigate information better (like flipping between ingredients and instructions), or annotating better, or receiving optional annotations from the author, say.

      I think we get stuck thinking of very little beyond from the print experience and the mind-blowing experience of the early ’90s CD-ROM Encarta experience. Remember what Encarta was like? OMG! High-res photos, so much better than the World Book. Hyperlinks! It was AMAZING. And it’s not necessarily what we need anymore.

      What we can do now in digital publishing can be LESS than that – and better.

  2. Vince Hodges Avatar
    Vince Hodges

    Some resources that might be useful:

    http://bakerframework.com/ (iOS)

    http://www.friarframework.com/ (Android)

    Both are open source frameworks for developing books/magazines in HTML5

  3. Donna Avatar

    I specifically do NOT buy instructional ebooks. The inability to flip through them makes them basically useless to me. Who buys a knitting book to read it straight through? It’s not a story. (Although the plot of cookbooks seems pretty good, at least they eat a lot of delicious food.)

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