Print to Digital

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.

Children’s books & digital

I have to say, when I read this news from EA Games last month I was not TOO blown away:

Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: ERTS) today announces the development of FLIPS, an innovative new book range created for the Nintendo DS. FLIPS has been designed to give children of all ages a fun new way to read their favorite books. EA has worked with some of the UK`s leading publishers of children’s books and magazines, including Egmont and Penguin Publishing, to bring modern classic titles from critically acclaimed authors such as Cathy Cassidy, Eoin Colfer, Enid Blyton, and the various writers from the popular boys series, `Too Ghoul for School` to the DS. Each FLIPS title features multiple books and the first four titles will be released exclusively on Nintendo DS in the UK on 4th December 2009.

But then I saw one (the Artemis Fowl-Eoin Colfer collection) in action at the CBI Digital Developments Seminar on Saturday 28 November in Tallaght Library. I’m still not blown away but I am more impressed than I thought I would be. The device is the same as any DS but the program is actually fairly clever and offers a range of extras that kids might just find enjoyable, though to a certain extent it remains in essence a book on screen. I don’t think this will be converting non-readers into readers. Still, interesting move.

One of the discussions that I tumbled into on Saturday was whether digital products opens a new market for books and will deliver new readers. I’m not sure that it will in any real sense. It may make it easier for people who have always read to read digitally, or enable people who have wanted to read but couldn’t to read with great ease, but NEW readers, people who simply didn’t read out of choice deciding to read on screen, seems unlikely, especially not book length pieces.

Still, one interesting development I spotted [in Publishers Weekly] today is that ScrollMotion are launching a series of releases for their Iceberg ereader which will be heavily child focused with:

animations, audio content, interactivity. Picture books in the Iceberg Kids format are more than books—they’re activities. The app has a sleek and entertaining aesthetic and navigational system (though all e-books will be sold as separate apps for the moment, they all share the same design and navigation system), featuring five buttons—”Read,” “Bookmark,” “Index,” “Record,” Settings,” “Help”—that make musical sounds when tapped.

To accommodate full-page illustrations in the iPhone’s small format, the application automatically pans around the illustration while the child or parent advances through the text on that page. By pinching the screen, one can move around the entire illustration at will. The text can be made larger or smaller, and automatically moves to accommodate the art.

I remain unconvinced by the need for these type of applications when they could be as easily hosted on a decent website, that had a mobile access mode, but still, it is good to see development on the area one way or the other.
Eoin

Links of Interest (At Least to Me) 27/10/2009

Interesting post about engagement strategy and an upcoming webinar from Digital Book World.
Here

Smashbooks looks at how authors need for publishers is being diminished.
Here

Mike Shatzkin has a great post that sums up the problem facing Print Publishers.
Here

Getting to Digital II

Thinking leads to more thinking
A rather great comment from Litlove got me thinking today. She wrote:

I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said – that the slice of the market that makes the money is where digital needs to take hold, and then inevitably from there it will take over.

And I’m still not sure that this isn’t just ideologically driven. When I worked in the bookstore, what made our money really was back list. Okay, every so often there’d be one book that did surprisingly well, but they were few and far between. It was the steady sale of backlist titles that kept us afloat.

Oh I don’t know. To be totally honest, I don’t want digital. I love reading and the thought of having to do it on yet another screen and not to have an actual book in my hands strikes me as hugely depressing.

I’m really not convinced at all why this move has to be made.

So I replied:

Litlove,

I’m with you, why does anything NEED to change?

Sadly where we are is a place where technology facilitates and enables change, a significant group of actors benefit or have a perceived benefit from the change and so those two factors being present, it would be almost impossible to prevent the change.

That said, I am firmly of the view that PRINT CULTURE is far from dead. In fact I’d wager BOOKS as a printed entity will thrive. Just not in the model we have right now. I’ve been meaning to write more on this but I suspect print runs will dip dramatically for all but the biggest books and they will individually become objects of greater value (Andrew Simone @ Lone Gunman has a post that touches on this today) or considerably less value depending on whether they are cheap paperbacks (probably Print on Demand or Massive Print Run) or expensive hardbacks, printed in low quantities.

The web is a reading culture though. Sure video, audio and art illuminate and decorate it, but the medium is a very textually based one. The network is better with a little friction as possible and this is best achieved through a single window (the browser) which is why I see ebooks as a temporary thing, driven by old “iron horse” notions. We will eventually learn to pay for deep deep piles of online content streamed to us or supplied to us via broswer windows just as now we get that largely for free.

Still, as I say, PRINT CULTURE will be around for some time I suspect!

And that basically is where I stand! It seemed like a good idea to put that up front and centre.
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