Can Orson KO Kindle?

Richard Mason reading an Orson digital book

Richard Mason reading an Orson digital book

IMAGINE reading an ebook – let’s say it’s an historical novel – on your tablet computer and one of the characters plays a Chopin composition on the piano to impress a young woman … and suddenly you can actually hear him performing it as you read the passage.

Look closely at the screen and you’ll see the book’s text is typeset on the background of 19th-century paper embellished by hand-drawn designs from that era. As you read through the text, you’ll see historic illustrations. Tap on these, and up comes a host of floating images from the period.

Not sure where the story is set? Then a pull-down menu will call up a map of the exact location, along with image and video galleries to act as visual guides to the story.

And if you get tired of reading, tap the next paragraph on the screen and actress Joanna Lumley will step straight in with audio narration. Just sit back and listen to her reading the story to you.

These are just some of the features of a new digital book app called Orson, a high-tech reading experience due to be launched in 2017 by a Glasgow-based team of five.

On its website, the Orson is described as “a digital edition that’s as memorable and beautiful as a printed book. It’s the result of authors, actors, musicians and visual artists collaborating to create awe-inspiring reading experiences”. The Orson app will be available free in the App Store for iPads and iPhones, and individual book titles can be bought in-app. A video demonstrating the Orson app can be found at

Orson co-founder and novelist Richard Mason writes about the new app in the latest edition of The Author magazine, issued by the Society of Authors in London, in an interesting article headlined ‘What ebooks could be’.

Richard Mason, co-founder of Orson & Co

Richard Mason, co-founder of Orson & Co

He says he and Orson co-founder and designer Benjamin Morse hit on the idea of a multi-media reading experience after Mason tired of Amazon’s Kindle reader. “I was exposed to the dull, repetitive reality of actually reading ebooks,” he wrote.

Their enterprise – Orson & Co – is a digital publishing house “in which the artists and storytellers are in charge of the coders”. Mason claims it “blows the Kindle out of the water”.

“We are at the birth of a new form, and the tools now exist to put authors in charge of its progress,” he added.

It’s a fascinating idea, and it’s admirable to see a small operation taking on the mighty Amazon’s Kindle platform, but it also raises a few questions about the future of ebooks and digital publishing.

Will this new multi-media reading experience detract from the simple pleasure of reading the written word? Do we need fancy videos, audio, maps, illustrations and all the other bells and whistles when all we really want is a damned good read?

And where will it end? Will the written story eventually become overpowered by the multi-media elements, rendering it almost worthless in the reader’s mind?

Kindle the conqueror

A NEWS snippet in The Author magazine also reveals that Amazon’s dominance of the ebook market is now estimated to be around 90 per cent of all sales. This follows Waterstones, Nook, Tesco and Sainsbury all pulling out of the ebook market. This monopoly is alarming, but it’s also comforting news for self-published authors, many of whom rely of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform for their livelihood.

If you’d like to comment on this blog, please use the comments box below.

Happy New Year … and all the best for 2017!

FOOTNOTE: If any of you have written a book – either fiction or non-fiction – and need help with editing, proofreading, formatting for Kindle, or paperback design and cover design, I can help you on the road to publication. See below.

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My business offers editing, proofreading, formatting and book and cover design services to self-published writers, of both fiction and non-fiction. See my website for full details. Check out my Facebook page and follow me on twitter



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