The Pickle: A Conversation About Making Digital Books

1: Opening Salvo

Okay, Craig, I know you’re critical of the arrested state of ebooks today. For my part, I’m more… curious. It’s clear to me that, for all their commercial success, we don’t know what books on screens are supposed to look like; not yet. But that shouldn’t be surprising; the first Kindle came out a mere eight years ago, and most people have been reading books on screens for a few years at most.

It’s only now that we’re starting to see the really interesting work emerge.

I believe you’ve read The Pickle Index, and I think we can agree that it represents something interesting and new. The novel’s digital edition is much more than words on a screen; instead, it masquerades as a recipe app, complete with menus and lists and a wonderful little map. It’s quite slick; if it was a real recipe app, it would be a pretty solid one! Its creators, Eli Horowitz and Russell Quinn, use the idiom of the app to pull you more deeply into the story, to make you, as a reader, feel somehow like an accomplice.

It’s fabulous.

But the Pickle Index app (for reasons I don’t want to give away to people who haven’t read it yet) can only tell the Pickle Index story; the way it works is bound up with the tale it tells. Eli and Russell can’t reuse this machine for, say, The Istanbul Protocol or The Dragon Wizard. Those stories wouldn’t fit.

So, with your earlier criticism in mind: What do you think? Is this matching of content to container the road forward, or is it a lovely cul-de-sac? Is the non-naive, non-repackaged future of ebooks more of these unique apps, or is it some new, reusable “master format” that we have yet to invent?

Note to readers: This is (going to be) a long, loopy conversation. The Pickle Index is crisp and compact. Consider sampling its tangy delights.


The Indexed Pickle

  1. ➡ Opening Salvo [Robin Sloan]
  2. Blank Slates! [Craig Mod]
  3. Opportunity Cost [Robin Sloan]
  4. The Struggle (Sorry) [Russell Quinn]
  5. Self Selection & The Jaws of Venture Valley [Craig Mod]
  6. The Many Futures of Storytelling [Eli Horowitz]
  7. Recruitment [Robin Sloan]
  8. Blarp [Eli Horowitz]
  9. That Oracular Feeling [Robin Sloan]
  10. Benevolent Leaders of the Frothy Kingdom [Craig Mod]
  11. The Left-on-the-Floor Weirdness [Russell Quinn]
  12. Territory of the Book [Eli Horowitz]
  13. At This Moment [Robin Sloan]
  14. Make a Book, Even Just One [Craig Mod]