Barely a month after book publishers took a beating for their dearth of new ideas at SXSW Interactive, we're starting to see signs of what innovation can bring. Yesterday in New York, the Wall Street Journal published an essay by Steven Johnson on the implications of the ebook, from hyperlinked texts to sales-by-the-chapter. Meanwhile, in London, Random House UK announced an even more radical departure: ebooks that include not just just text but audio, video, even games. As the company's new "Book and Beyond" Web site puts it, "Dig deeper...with Book and Beyond, our selection of enhanced ebooks."
The Journal piece was a fairly straightforward projection - a look at what digitization will do to books once we move beyond the gee-whiz factor of instant downloads. Thanks to the Kindle, the Amazon store, the Sony Reader, and Google Book Search, books are finally transcending the printed page. Sooner or later, that will lead to the introduction of hyperlinks. And once that happens, reading books will become a nonlinear experience, much like reading newspaper articles, magazine stories, and of course blog posts. Inevitably, the convenience of the online impulse buy - think, purchase, consume - will be accompanied by the ADD effect of the hyperlink.