Cultural Amnesia and 'special edition' eBooks

We published our first eBook back in 1979, of course. It came preloaded in its own reading device, with a screen about three inches by four, and featured full multimedia support, scrolling text, a hyperlinked index, automatic text-to-speech, regular (if infrequent) wireless updates, and a slip case with 'Don't Panic' printed in large friendly letters. Unfortunately, due to a highly improbable set of circumstances involving roadworks for a new bypass, all copies were destroyed and it never made it to the shops. Like Cultural Amnesia, it was definitive, although it boldly claimed that in cases of discrepancy it was reality that was wrong. The one major feature it omitted was to allow the user to annotate it, then collect, save, distribute and share this marginal metadata with other readers. It's some of Clive James's marginal metadata that comprises the special feature of this edition, ideas and themes that were 'parked to one side' then span off and found individual form, and which have now been included.

The idea that a special edition eBook can contain marginal material produced before, during, or after a print edition features in two other eBooks to be published by Picador this year. Sid Smith's China Dreams, which we published in hardback in January 2007 and in paperback in January 2008, will be issued in a uniquely up-to-date edition, in the author's latest version, with corrections, changes, and new material, and a foreword in which he considers the process of composition and revision. Cliffhanger, by T. J. Middleton (the alias of our established Picador author Tim Binding), takes this idea in the opposite direction: alongside the print edition, which we publish in October 2008, will be an urtext: a composite version of the novel as it was before it was edited here at Picador, with the text in its original form, reinstated and modified scenes and characters, and a radically different ending, also with a foreword by the author explaining the urtext's conception and the editing process that turned it into Cliffhanger.

These special eBooks are developments of, elaborations of the print books - the texts as they might have been, perhaps ought to have been, perhaps will be - and apart from the medium of delivery they would not have seemed strange to the reader of 1979. The production process for these special edition eBooks would also be familiar to the Pan editor in 1979: they're copy-edited, designed, typeset, and proofread in the same way as a print book, and then sent to the printers, except in this case to their eBook division. The production details would be different, of course: phototypesetting only replaced hot metal in the 1980s, making possible features such as automatic application of hyphenation and justification rules, infinitely variable leading and kerning, and text wrapping and overlay; and the different features and limitations of the applications we've chosen for reading our eBooks have their own opportunities and problems.

So if special edition eBooks are a natural development of their print titles, and can be approximated to films released as DVDs, with extras including unseen material and director's versions, what of the titles that exploit the new medium, and new reading environments and communities such as those found on the Web, in a way no print title could? Well, naturally, we have plans for those too, in ways that would have been unimaginable in 1979 (the Web itself wasn't around until 1990), but, we hope, still recognizable to those visionaries. Stay posted.