December 2011 | Nate Pedersen

eBook Treasures: An Interview with Michael Stocking

eBook Treasures, a new venture from Armadillo Systems in Great Britain, publishes digital facsimiles of some of the greatest (and rarest) masterpieces of world literature.  You can flip through William Blake's personal notebook, or browse through Mercator's Atlas of Europe on your iPhone or iPad.  We recently interviewed Michael Stocking, Managing Director of Armadillo Systems about eBook Treasures and bridging the gap between the codex and the digital reader:

NP: How did eBook Treasures begin?

MS: About 10 years ago we developed some software for libraries and museums to display digital facsimiles on touchscreens and the web called Turning the Pages. This became fairly successful, but earlier this year we started to look at how we could provide access to rare books in a compelling way on mobile devices, specifically tablets. I love print facsimiles, but we thought by offering digital facsimiles we could provide great quality images, additional interpretation like audio or video, a simple one-click download and at a price everyone could afford. We looked at building an app and Kindle, but in the end opted for the iBook platform, as it offered the best user experience

NP: How do you select which books you will feature?

MS: We're trying to build a collection to represent the greatest books ever made, but also introduce books of iconic value. So, whilst we have the Bedford Hours and the Lindisfarne Gospels, we have also just published an amazing illuminated edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, illustrated by a little-known Manchester artist called Alan Tabor. This particular book was very beautiful, but also brought a familiar text to life in a new way, so we included it. Our partners like the British Library, Royal Society and John Rylands Library will also put forward candidates for eBook Treasures that they believe deserve a wider audience, so we take on board their input also.

NP: Are you personally a book collector?

MS: My shelves at home are three deep, which means lots of my books disappear for years. I have a particular interest in English nature writing, so writers like William Cobbett, Richard Jeffries, WH Hudson and Edward Thomas, but I can't pretend any of the editions I have are of any great value.

NP:  Do you have a favorite book currently available from eBook Treasures?

MS: I think the Luttrell Psalter just wins out over Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Arundel. As a psalter it's outstanding, but the marginal illustrations of everyday medieval life are captivating and take it in to another dimension for me. The iBook version also includes a video in which certain scenes are acted out from the book. The film took two years to make and the production team made all the clothes and tools and shot year-round to capture the seasonal changes the psalter depicts. Plus the Luttrell Psalter was the first book I ever worked on in 1997 with the British Library, so we've had a long association.

NP: Any plans to expand to other devices, such as the Kindle Fire now that it is in color?

MS: We're actively working with Amazon now they've launched the Kindle Fire, and hope to port all eBookTreasure to Kindle in the New Year. We have an eye on Nook and Kobo also, but, as with Kindle, the platform has to do justice to the books.

NP: Any upcoming books / manuscripts you can tell us about?

MS: The next book to launch will be the entire Shakespeare First Folio from an exceptional example at the British Library. We're publishing that as a single volume, but also as individual plays, so students who are studying, say Macbeth, can just download that play for a couple of dollars and see the original 1623 text as Shakespeare wrote it and as it would have been performed in his lifetime. Some of the books also include recordings of performances with early 17th century pronunciation, so you'll actually also be able to hear the plays as Shakespeare heard them. To us that's a great example of what eBookTreasures is all about. After that we have Mozart's Thematic Catalogue with specially recorded music, the original manuscript of Handel's Messiah and the Lindisfarne Gospels. I'm particularly looking forward to working on the Lindisfarne Gospels again. I was just looking through the scans, and was reminded that this isn't just an incredible manuscript, it's one of the greatest works of art of any kind ever made.

A note from Fine Books: If you're intrigued by eBook Treasures and want to check them out yourself, the books are readily available to download from the iTunes store.  You can also visit the eBook Treasures website to browse through their back catalog of titles. The books are currently only compatible with iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads, but may be available in other formats in the near future so check their website for updates. Mercator's Atlas of Europe is on sale during December for £1.99 in the UK and $3.99 in the States.