Wolfram Research co-founder Gray and his Touch Press may be future of e-books, publishing

Wolfram Research co-founder Gray and his Touch Press may be future of e-books, publishing

Summary: Wolfram Research co-founder Theodore Gray said next-generation book publishers will need to be multiple disciplines---programming, writing and video---to be successful. Gray's ideas---not to mention his company Touch Press---foreshadow the future of publishing.

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Wolfram Research co-founder Theodore Gray said next-generation book publishers will need multiple disciplines---programming, writing and video---to be successful. Gray's ideas---not to mention his company Touch Press---foreshadow the future of publishing.

Speaking at the O'Reilly Media Tools of Change for Publishing conference Gray talked e-books and what they need to thrive, how textbooks will have to be free and proposed a new document format for educational enrichment and scientific texts.

Gray, a delightfully geeky guy who actually built a periodic table of real wood, had interesting insights given he's intertwined with next-generation publishing via Touch Press, software via Wolfram Research's Mathematica and answer tools like Wolfram/Alpha.

While many publishers in attendance at TOC were talking about digital change and adapting models, Gray may be among those most in touch with what needs to happen to publishing. Here are his three key ingredients next-gen interactive e-books:

  • "You need an author that's not a technical writer, but can tell a real story with depth and authority," said Gray. "You would read this author even if the book wasn't interactive. Traditional publishers understand this." However, multimedia companies don't.
  • "You need real programmers," said Gray. "You need people that turn hardware into magic." Gray's definition of programmers goes beyond "Flash hackers." These programmers can use software to tell a story and give hardware purpose.
  • And the final ingredient is "a television producer's eye for moving visuals." These producers deliver high quality video on budget and on schedule. "If this were TV you would watch it even if it weren't in an interactive app," said Gray.

To see Gray's vision, look no farther than Touch Press' Elements iPad app. Another educational tool is Solar System. In addition, Touch Press is partnering with publisher Faber and Faber to bring T.S. Eliot to the iPad in an app called The Waste Land.

What's notable here is that Gray is a bit of a polymath. He's grounded in science, but you need the expertise of software, storytelling and programming to make these next-gen books work. However, traditional publishers need the programming talent---something these firms know little about. Software companies lack the storytelling chops. And video people usually can't write. Will new companies emerge or will traditional players in e-book production evolve? I'd bet on new companies like Touch Press.

"We're not a textbook company. What we produce is enrichment products that kids will actually check out," said Gray. "I don't think there's a future in paying for ordinary textbooks. No one will pay for simple textbooks. People will pay for interactivity."

To that end, Gray's Wolfram/Touch Press trio has proposed a Computable Document Format that will make scientific papers and textbooks interactive. "It's a complete suite of content creation tools for runtime development," said Gray.

Topics: Hardware, CXO, Mobility, Software, Software Development

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  • Interactivity is the future

    I particularly like the line " No one will pay for simple Textbooks People will pay for interactivity " The questions remains that Teachers & Educators are still the best interactivity model that exists today how do we get the student learning model to fully incorporate & value the best interactivity tool that exist today.
    Knurani
  • Include "Ways of Figuring Things Out"

    Theodore Gray, I'm documenting and sharing "ways of figuring things out' <a href="http://www.selflearners.net/ways/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.selflearners.net/ways/</a> I'd love to mesh that with your publishing models. <a href="http://www.selflearners.net/Business/Proposal" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.selflearners.net/Business/Proposal</a>
    AndriusKulikauskas
  • Computable Document Format

    The other real gem in the Wolfram arsenal is their Computable Document Format (CDF). This has been known in the past as the Demonstrations project ( <a href="http://demonstrations.wolfram.com" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="http://demonstrations.wolfram.com" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="http://demonstrations.wolfram.com" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="http://demonstrations.wolfram.com" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://demonstrations.wolfram.com</a></a></a></a> ). Demonstrations play on the Mathematica engine; a version of the engine, Mathematica Player, is available for free download.<br><br>CDFs show properties of dynamic systems: physics, economics, mathematics. Good CDF files are designed to give the users sliders and buttons to alter the conditions of the system and observe the dynamic results. If the file has 3D structures, the CDF allows for full-blown zoom and pan through the structures (like Google's new Google Body). Geek heaven! The best way to check this out is to look at the current payer and the vast library of demonstrations projects. These were volunteered by users; some are far better than others.<br><br>In the past, Wolfram required that demonstrations be distributed through them. Now, Mathematica users can save and distribute the CDF files as they wish. <br><br>In the past, the Player has been distributed for PC, Mac, and Linux. The big payoff would be a Player for the iPad (and Android tablets). Gray explicitly said he had no comment on that question during his presentation today.<br><br>Any reader of academic papers in the sciences knows that the illustrations in those papers are rather dry. They are often a poor representation of the model or system; demonstration of dynamic properties is very difficult in a static image. If papers had CDF files embedded in the document, readers could interact with them on their laptops/tablets to visualize and play with the concepts. In the words of Theodore Gray, CDF could bring a little Harry Potter to those research papers.<br><br>Addendum: Gray's talk at the 2011 O'Reilly TOC Publishing conference is now online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1ZblUg4j3s. His discussion about CDF starts at 24:20 in that video.
    floatingbones