Networked Books

Go Read This | if:book: hospice for publishers

An excellent, but somewhat unsettling post this one!

Thinking about my friend’s parents makes we wonder why their couldn’t be a “hospice” option for publishers, many of whom — my low-end guess is at least 50% — won’t survive the transition from print to networked screens.   If a publisher doesn’t have the requisite vision, desire and resources to embrace digital, what’s wrong with saying, “Gee, it’s been a great 25, 50, 100-year run. Instead of beating our heads against a wall and dying an ugly death, why don’t we go out in style.”

via if:book: hospice for publishers.

Nintendo DSi & FLIPS: A Review

Just before Christmas this year (2009), I was sent a Nintendo DSi and three FLIPS digital books free of charge and no strings attached (well with a view to reviewing them string attached) by O’Leary PR.

First, a word on reviews and sending me products. I’m not normally into that kind of thing. After all, I’m not here for freebies and they really won’t sway my opinion one way or the other. O’Leary responded to a post I wrote about the impact of digital change on Children’s books and the product they sent was very appropriate to my work so I felt it was a good deal on both sides. In other words, it was a rare event and one I’d suggest is unlikely to occur too often.

To business
The DSi is a very pretty piece of engineering and computing. It reminds me almost immediately of my old GameBoy and that can’t be a bad thing, after all that was glued to my hand for about two straight years. But when you start playing with it you realise that a GameBoy doesn’t even come close. It’s not just that the DSi has a camera, wi-fi connectivity, two screens and notably colour (which I never even imagined was a possibility) but it’s also the touch screen interface (admittedly with a stylus which seems very early noughties now) the screen shifting capability and the download-able content that make this a special piece of kit. it won’t ever replace my wonderful iPod touch but I did find myself thinking that for certain purposes, especially complex games like Settlers and Civilization, the DSi would have lots of advantages over the touch.

The meat
Electronic Arts announced its first FLIPS products in October 2008. They went on sale in December. So what are they? Essentially digital book packages.

I spent most of my time using the Artemis Fowl FLIPS, if only because that was the one that appealed most to me and not because the author, Eoin Colfer, is Irish. You get quite a lot for the money you pay. At a retail price of just £24.99 you get 7 books and a bundle of extras. The best thing about the FLIPS is that they are not just books made to work on a device, the books have embedded features like links to information that might be useful or helpful to a new reader, collectible pieces of code that build into a readable text as well as illustrations displayed on a double screen in what seemed to me a most book-like manner.

I’ve enjoyed reading on the DSi, the page turning is much easier to deal with than some e-reading devices, the refresh is quicker and the enhancements bring a new dimension to the experience. I also like the reward structure, that might just encourage some reluctant readers to engage, but then again, given the choice of a game over a book package, I suspect most people will skip the book and buy the game.

One thing I really like about the FLIP though is the fact that it is a bundle of books. I can see this being an attractive way to package books for children and adults. But there again that leads me to my problems with the product which are twofold.

The Problems
Firstly that in some ways, FLIPS just highlights the core challenge of books and reading in a digital connected world, as the possible uses of free time explode the danger for books is that time that might be spent reading can as easily be spent, surfing the web, playing games, watching video, listening to streamed music or doing any of the variety of digitally enabled forms of entertainment what ever handheld device you happen to be carrying allows.

Secondly that the FLIPS feels all the time like a tame version of the web. Why bother with these little cartridges is what I wonder, enable the text on a website with the links embedded, make the enhancements available online too and charge for access to the bundle, update it when new books are released and cross sell products if you want but crucially make it available to anyone willing to pay on any device anywhere that’s connected to the web.

Who wins when book publishers package books like this? Device makers I reckon.

Enjoying the last day of 2009!
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 11/12/2009

Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews to close. Frankly I find this a little strange. Even spinning them off might have been better, though survival on their own would have been pretty unlikely without serious reorganization and a fundamental rethinking of the business models.
Here

Canongate is profiled in the Wall Street Journal, that Jamie Byng has an eye for a book that can be packaged. It’d almost make ya jealous.
Here

Frankly, I don’t buy this Apple Tablet nonsense much. Apple cannot single-handedly change the industry, though they may try. In any case when Steve Jobs announces this on a stage somewhere, I’m sure I’ll want it, but until then, I shall waste no energy waiting or wanting.
Here

On the other hand, both Mike Shatzkin and Michael Hyatt have articles about new display systems for content that they claim will change the book world as we know it. I think both are right that change is coming but I have more sympathy with the Sports Illustrated demo video on Michael Hyatt’s post. After all that looks like a faster webpage with some extra features rather than something new. Webpages are the answer and so putting the web in every hand you can is the way forward for publishers and makes more sense than creating new, confusing and unnecessary formats. The trick is to make the customer pay for access to your content, not find a fancy way to display it.

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 19/10/2009

The Frankfurt Cleared The Air Edition

Richard Eoin Nash’s post on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog is all kinds of excellent:

Not only, it turns out, are the readers of the world looking to buy our content if we can deliver it to them digitally, but the world’s leading hardware companies are looking to help us. Along with Sony, iRex, TXTR, and other dedicated reading device manufacturers exhibiting, presenting, and working the floor, two Apple executives were traversing the halls of the Fair to let publishers know all the opportunities that await them on that platform. (Let it be said: that platform, right now, is the iPhone. Not any other rumored device. Apple has not been in private discussions about a larger device and reports that they have are a hoax. But Apple does believe in the opportunity for the publishing industry’s content, contrary to the occasional snarky comment from Jobs.) Apple is working to improve the Books section of the App store to make it more browsable, and they are trying to help publishers find the right developers to work with.

You should take the time to read all the contributions from Richard and his fellow Book Fair Bloggers, they provide a nice slice of the fair.

Brian O’Leary has put the slides for his trouble causing presentation on piracy up on Slideshare, when you read through, you’ll find it hard to find the controversy and wonder just how tightly poised those knee-jerk reactions are.

The news of Google’s Google Editions, which first came to light back in June has been formed up by more recent news. Like this AP story:

Tom Turvey, head of Google Book Search’s publisher partnership program, said the price per book would be set by their publishers and would start with between 400,000 to 600,000 books in the first half of 2010.
“It will be a browser-based access,” Turvey said Thursday at the 61st Frankfurt Book Fair. “The way the e-book market will evolve is by accessing the book from anywhere, from an access point of view and also from a geographical point of view.”
The books bought from Google, and its partners, would be accessible on any gadget that has a Web browser, including smartphones, netbooks and personal computers and laptops. A book would be accessible offline after the first time it was accessed.

Of course as you would expect it is platform neutral (if web based/cloud based is neutral), omnipresent and smart. Anyone who thinks that devices are the future is living in the past.

There is a whole load of other stuff on the margins, but in terms of signal, I think this is it!
Eoin

Getting to Digital

Beastly goings on
There have been a few pretty big moves in the last few days towards what seem (At least to me) sensible models for getting digital and quickly. The first is Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast‘s deal with Perseus Press that the NYT featured yesterday:

Ms. Brown said that Beast Books would select authors from The Daily Beast’s cadre of writers, most of whom are paid freelancers, to write books with quick turnarounds. She said she planned to publish three to five books in the first year.

The beauty of the deal though is that they making digital first publications:

Beast Books, that will focus on publishing timely titles by Daily Beast writers — first as e-books, and then as paperbacks on a much shorter schedule than traditional books.

I rather hope this works, it certainly sounds like a good news story if it does. The model seems sensible, it capitalises on the eyeballs the Daily Beast is dragging and as The Big Money puts it in a sensible and thoughtful paragraph:

The good news is that this is exactly what digital publishing needs to fuel its growth: a product ideally suited to a new technology. Brown’s entry into the field validates the idea of writing specifically for the Kindle and its competitors, a huge vote of confidence in the tools. The less-great news is that for all of Brown’s talent for attention-getting, the Daily Beast may not have the right content to drive sales. Which just might be the point of the whole deal—with Brown using the book deal as a back door to better content.

Disney Digital

Disney Digital


Disney’s gamble
There have been some negative comments about Disney’s newly launched program that provides online access to 500. As the NYT (again) puts it:

In what it bills as an industry-defining moment — though rivals are sure to be skeptical about that — Disney Publishing plans to introduce a new subscription-based Web site. For $79.95 a year, families can access electronic replicas of hundreds of Disney books, from “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” to “Hannah Montana: Crush-tastic!”

DisneyDigitalBooks.com, which is aimed at children ages 3 to 12, is organized by reading level. In the “look and listen” section for beginning readers, the books will be read aloud by voice actors to accompanying music (with each word highlighted on the screen as it is spoken). Another area is dedicated to children who read on their own. Find an unfamiliar word? Click on it and a voice says it aloud. Chapter books for teenagers and trivia features round out the service.

I like this idea because it is heading more towards the type of product that can win the battle for attention and hold its own against numerous distractions. What is more, a site like this (and being a site is crucial) has a certain seamless quality, it fits into the web rather than standing aside from it in a “connected” device. It will simply be a rich content website that you happen to pay for! That is important! that, I believe, is the future.

Both these moves are taking big publishing digital very rapidly. This is a space to watch!
Eoin