Apple iPad: The Future of the Book Starts Now

POSTED ON Mar 5, 2010

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > Book Design, Social Media > Apple iPad: The Future of the Book Starts Now

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.

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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