Apple iPad: The Future of the Book Starts Now

by | Mar 5, 2010

If you have the time, watch this short video:

You may not have noticed it, but on Tuesday in London the CEO of Penguin Books, John Makinson, gave a presentation to the Financial Time’s Digital Media & Broadcasting Conference. As reported by paidContent:UK, he wanted to show the progress Penguin has made in developing products for the soon-to-be-released Apple iPad.

The video runs about three minutes, and I’ve watched it more than once. Makinson briefly shows “books” that have been adapted for early readers, young readers, for vampire-book readers and books from the terrific Dorling-Kindersley imprint of lavishly illustrated popular reference books. Here’s the rundown, with some thoughts on these new products:

The first three offerings were focused on educational markets:

  • Pre-reader activity book—This reminded me of many educational software titles of years gone by, with the addition of the touchscreen and accelerometer that are built into the iPad.
  • Spot—Yes, Spot the dog from the early reader, transferred to the iPad. Flash back to a whole generation of applications for kids that have run on desktop machines pretty much unchanged for years. Here again, portability and the computer functions of the iPad allowed for an interactive experience as you “help Spot” paint a picture.
  • DK Human Body—Watching this short clip made me want to look for those old Encarta disks, and brought to mind the whole dream of a “living encyclopedia” with access to vast stores of knowledge. But still a canned application.

Next, a way to bring books and social media together:

  • Vampire Academy—The appeal of this application is its stretch of the reading experience into another realm, social media. The application contains an online componenet where you can interact with other vampire fans. Does that sound like fun?

Finally, two appications that really show the transformative power of the iPad:

  • DK Travel—A colorful DK travel guide to Paris comes alive with the integration of the iPad’s GPS system to show exactly where objects described in the book are, and calls up maps to help you get there. Wow.
  • DK Starfinder—More of an idea than an application. The demo was a lot less effective when attendees realized the “sky” depicted on the iPad screen was actually a star map pasted to the inside of the glass, more or less. But the concept was fantastic: hold the iPad up to the sky and its GPS would show what constellations and other objects you were looking at on its screen. Buck Rogers stuff.

An Echo of Times Gone By

Makinson described how Penguin would be embedding audio, video and streaming capacity into “everything we do.” He made a point of dissing the .epub format, the standard for most e-books today, as not being quite “cool” enough.

But you may have realized by now that even though these are called “books”, and even though they are coming from Penguin, a book publisher, these are not really books, and not even ebooks. The reason most of them remind me so strongly of programs from times past is exactly because that is what they are: computer applications. Programs pure and simple, just like the Pajama Sam games my son played ten years ago.

Brought to the iPad, made portable, enhanced with touchscreen and movement sensors, connected to the internet and with a real live GPS function, they clearly have taken these programs to new levels of functionality, and fun. The iPad is without a doubt a cool device.

But where is the book in all this? Here’s what Makinson had to say:

“So for the time being at least we’ll be creating a lot of our content as applications, for sale on app stores and HTML, rather than in ebooks. The definition of the book itself is up for grabs.

And Some Smiles from the Publishers as Well

In the second video, which is much less interesting, Makinson makes clear why the publishing world is rushing toward the iPod in a frenzy, hoping for salvation. He talks at some length about the Agency Model but the real point is this:

  • publishers have to give up a minimum of 50% to get their books into distribution, and often more.
  • Ebooks have incredible price pressures on them, and many readers are outraged to have to pay for them at all.
  • Amazon has made the Kindle products unappetizing by taking away their ability to push the price over $9.99 now that it’s ingrained in people’s minds.
  • Apple, who will lock the barbarians out at the gates, will allow publishers leeway to set prices, and will take “only” 30% of sales.

As paidContent:UK reported,

“The iPad represents the first real opportunity to create a paid distribution model that will be attractive to consumers,” an excited Makinson told FT’s Digital Media & Broadcasting Conference. “The psychology of payment on tablets is different to the psychology on a PC.”

Yes, I’ll be he was excited. And you can almost see, from here, the gleam in Steve Jobs’ eye down there in Cupertino, where he “rescues” another industry and somehow becomes even more influential at the same time.

The Future Splits Along Two Paths. Or It Doesn’t

Regular readers of this blog know that there is a real concern for the future of the book as a book. It seems that ebooks of all types will continue to grow in popularity, and that growth may come at the expense of printed books. Economic pressures on buyers and producers haven’t stopped. Cheaper products that are “cooler” and do more than just lie there have a growing attraction.

The two forms could continue on parallel tracks. At least some of the products demonstrated by Penguin didn’t try to look like an electronic picture of a book, which is a bit patronizing in a way. At some point in the far future, perhaps books printed on paper will become objects of art, collectibles, even more refined and aimed at a conniseour market, no longer a mass medium.

Or the two forms could converge, with ereaders becoming more book-like.

But whatever the book will become, we’re seeing the first, tottering baby steps into that world right now. Enjoy the ride.

Takeaway: The first experiments with “books” made possible by the Apple iPad show just how far ebooks and printed books will diverge as new devices come to market. Publishers have good financial reasons to look forward to the iPad.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Theodore Tyson

    I read this book and its provide nice information about iPad and Iphone because iPad application development is considered as the new phenomenon when it comes to the IT world for many years now since it was introduced.

  2. Tom Colvin

    Edward, I know actually a software that does page turns in a booklet format. I’m considering it for some e-books. But I can’t quite see it working for a blog. In fact, I need to take a weekend and try to visualize just what a page-turning blog would look like. It would certainly be different.

    Thanks for the idea of finding an iPad developer. Hmmm, could make an interesting joint project.

  3. Edward G. Talbot

    Joel – Yes, it will be interesting to see.

    Tom, certainly nothing like WordPress has a page turning metaphor, but it is easily possible technically. If you want to pursue it, find an IPad Application developer to work with. simply adding comment functionality is about as easy a programming task as one can imagine. I imagine you’ll want to make it more than just a book with comments, and as you and Joel have suggested, there are a lot of creative possibilities.

  4. Tom Colvin

    Joel, a few days ago, I blogged about the implications of the iPad for bloggers, as opposed to book writers. I have a suspicion that readers will begin to expect “page turning” rather than “scrolling” as the navigation of choice. But blogs are designed as a long vertical stream of posts.

    As far as I know, there is no Word Press theme that adopts a page-turning metaphor. In fact, it may not even be possible technically.

    Personally, I would love to develop a blog — or a “daily booklet” — designed especially for the iPad and its imitators. Anyone have any thoughts about how to pursue this?

  5. Joel

    Tom, if we’re lucky I think we’ll see an explosion of creativity for the capabilities of the iPad, particularly since the thousands of app devlopers will gain access to the platform, not just conglomerates. The convergence of all these technologies in one interlinked device seems ripe for creative exploitation.

  6. Joel

    Ed, I’ve written often here about why it might be advisable for the people producing all these e-Readers to use some of the accumulated wisdom of 500 years of book making, but most the the eBooks I’ve seen at most try to mimic the look of a book. Whether people buy these hybrids in enough quantity remains to be seen.

  7. Tom Colvin

    There are other emerging routes for independent authors to create multi-media e-books. One is DesktopAuthor, if I remember the name correctly.

    I’ve actually got some projects in the wings that are simply waiting for this new multi-media e-book thing to sort itself out — so I’m trying to follow it closely.

    In my mind, this will simply become it’s own, distinct genre, especially appealing to how-to topics and education.

  8. Edward G. Talbot

    Joel –

    I can see the point of view that they need to try stuff and see what sticks. My humble opinion is that this particular approach strays too far from both their core customers and core competencies. They are planning to fundamentally redefine what the book has meant for centuries (again, taking Makinson at his word). Essentially they are doing so because they don’t believe that they can convince people of the value they already add.

    Hell, maybe it’s their best option, but if it is, many of them will not make it.

  9. Joel

    Tom, thanks for stopping by. I don’t know much about the software used for these applications, will have to check on Blio.

    Yes, it seems that multi-media apps like some of these are clearly beyond the ability of the average self-published author to put together. The whole move toward the iPad is another way that authors are, in many cases, being relegated to the role of writers, subservient to the “coders” and software professionals who actually engineer these applications.

    At least for now it looks like the iPad and its ilk will be the minority, much talked about but small in number, as most people continue to see the value in a $10 book that has no charging port or software bugs or glass screens. Interesting to watch, tho.

    Self-Publishing Review is a great community and review site, lots of good content and a growing number of people joining in, glad you enjoy it.

  10. Joel

    Ed, I suppose it’s a case of “throwing the spaghetti against the fridge to see if it sticks” because publishers know they have to get in front of the wave that’s breaking over their business model, but they don’t know what it is that will carry them to safety. I don’t blame them for trying these models, it was just interesting to see how so many of the “new” projects look just like old PC applications. (ducking the metaphor police here)

  11. Tom Colvin

    As it happens, I blogged about the Penguin videos yesterday. Your post is much more thorough than mine. Well done.

    I’m wondering just what software underpins the Penguin titles. Looks like Blio to me, which is scheduled to become publicly available later this spring.

    I have some questions about this new application, especially regarding its availability to authors who aim at self-publication. I fear that this technological advance will re-erect some hurdles to publication, with a technology difficult to master and expensive to implement. That, of course, would help explain Makinson’s enthusiasm. Publishers may become gate-keepers again.

    I’ve corresponded briefly with the people at Blio, who say that the company is looking at options which will open up the technology to individual authors.

    BTW, like your blog and your posts at Self-Publishing Review [which I plan to blog about soon].

  12. Edward G. Talbot

    With all due respect to Makinson, I think he’s hallucinating. The publishing industry is making a huge gamble. I’ll take him at his word that the focus going forward will be on content that is more than just “a book”. This of course implies that he agrees with what many have suggested in recent years – that the roles of gatekeeper and editor/cover/layout are not enough to justify the difference between the $15 a publisher has to charge and the $3 and indy author has to charge to make the same amount. So rather than try to focus on marketing that value (and to date they have not done so – “self-published books suck” is nto a marketing strategy), they believe they have to offer additional value.

    One the one hand, I’ll give them credit for recognizing that something fundamental has got to change. But I highly doubt that what amounts to abandoning the pure “reader” market on price (and here I speak not of the ridiculous concept of what an ebook “should” cost, instead focusing on what price authors certainly can and will produce ebooks for) is going to pay off with legions of new fans. What’s far more likely is for them to lose their long-time customers and eventually their authors, without creating sufficient replacements.

    His comments suggest nothing less than that they are betting the future on something other than books as we’ve known them for centuries. Even current ebooks are not that fundamentally different. For every Henry Ford who succeeded in this kind of shift, there are untold failures. As silly as it would be to change nothing in the face of the problems they face, this kind of change is even more ridiculous. Yes, they might guess right. But it ain’t likely.

  13. Joel

    Howard, I have wondered often over the last few months whether I am actually a “buggy whip manufacturer” watching the early Model A’s roll off Ford’s assembly line, so I get the fact that we are in the midst of a transition that’s impossible to see the other end of. Thanks for the tip on the Stephenson book, too, and for your thoughtful comment.

  14. Joel

    Betty, you are quite right that there’s a price to pay for the advances in technology. But you and I both know that this trend cannot and will not be stopped, and I think it’s important for us to stay up on what’s going on. The capabilities of the iPad are sure to lead to some amazing applications. Whether it will become the de facto format for book reading remains to be seen. And no, I’m not buying one for every member of the family. Family is about sharing isn’t it? Thanks for your comment.

  15. Howard Jones

    Lamentations and celebrations, at least in advance of ongoing technology evolution, have a way of being misplaced until historical perspective catches up. Consider the automobile’s effect on modes of transportation; obviously consequences followed its debut. But has the horse disappeared? No. I know several people who raise and train Tennessee Walking Horses for legions of aficionados. Beyond them are devotees of thoroughbreds, arabians, percherons, on and on through all the worlds and levels of equine grace, speed and power.

    The book is not lost. Its format has been revealed perhaps as less pedestrian and more precious than realized in former days when it was chief workhorse of investing and distributing mindful product. Read Neal Stephenson’s _The Diamond Age_ for a rich evocation of what the iPad and its ilk portend.

  16. betty ming liu

    Oh, my goodness. Thanks for the videos and the reflections. The Kindle never moved me; the iPad concept does. But after reading this post, I KNOW my view of books is changing. A little sad, since I love the experience of paper. Onward, right?

    Watching the educational “books” had me looking back at all those chunky kiddie hardbacks and heavy texts that I dragged around on vacations. No more! But the problem now is that every member of the family will want her own iPad. Very expensive.



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