Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on the Future of the Book

The Curse of the E-book Metaphor

Brian Franklin Clark.

The blessing and curse for the electronic book is that it is built on a well-known metaphor, the physical book, whose standards, unlike the e-book, are well established. The paper begins with an examination of metaphors and how they were first studied and used to increase effective communication. Today, a metaphor can be used in computer-mediated communication to substitute for the underlying code and terminology of an operating system or application. A most common cited example of this would be the desktop metaphor on a computer.

The article then looks at the well-established standards of the physical book (pagination, table of contents, index, etc.) and how and why these standards need to be incorporated into an electronic book. The piece looks at the importance of the electronic page layout and why features such as page and character dimensions, margins, and a certain ratio between words and spaces, are important for readability. Problems specific to electronic texts such as the use of color and underlining will be discussed, as well as the need for navigation aids to help the user.

The paper also looks at suggestions by those who have conducted tests on e-books or electronic texts, such as Jakob Nielsen, John Morakes, and others, to make the electronic word more like the printed word and more readable.

The conference paper ends with a heuristic evaluation of some of the more popular web-based e-book interfaces, such as netLibrary, Books 24X7, and Safari Tech Books Online.


Brian Franklin Clark  (United States)
Reference/Media Librarian
Malpass Library
Western Illinois University

Brian Clark is the Reference/Media Librarian at Western Illinois' Malpass Library. Prior to joining Western, Brian worked for three and half years at Indiana State University where he divided his time between cataloging, instruction, and reference. Before joining the field of librarianship, he spent twenty years as a broadcast journalist working for television stations in New York, West Virginia, Iowa, Florida, and Indiana. He holds two masters' degrees, one in Library Science, the other in Information Science, from Indiana University

  • e-book
  • Electronic book
  • Interface
  • Metaphor

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)