The following article first appeared in The National Book review:
Google's innovative instincts -- which have led it to create self-driving cars and virtual reality headsets -- have just landed (once again) in the world of books. The tech giant has launched what it is calling a bookstore for "books that can't be printed."
Editions at Play calls itself a specialized online bookstore selling "a new kind of book" that "makes use of the dynamic properties of the web." The main way these books are intended to be read: on a smartphone.
If it sounds like Google is throwing down the gauntlet at the world of print books, it is. "People sometimes say that physical books have qualities that do not transfer well to digital," Editions at Play says in its "About" section, which reads more like a manifesto. "We want to show that digital has narrative qualities that cannot transfer to print."
Specifically, "dynamic" qualities -- meaning that its books can be "data-led, locative, generative, algorithmic, sensor-based, fluid, non-linear, expandable, cookie-ish, personalized..." And the list goes on.
Editions at Play says it will publish four books by international authors who "have open minds and a sense of adventure" over the first half of this year, with more to come later.
One of the two books on sale now is The Truth About Cats and Dogs by English poet Sam Riviere and British novelist Joe Dunthorne, described as "The book that takes sides." The other is Entrances & Exits by Reif Larsen, described as "The book that travels the world."
The books, which sell for $4.25 each, can be read on a smartphone or on the web and are billed as taking 30 minutes to an hour to get through. One early review says that both are "fun, engaging reads" - though the word "reads" might need to be in quotation marks.
Check out Google's new venture here