Children's Publishing

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) 12/12/2009

Colm & The LaZarus Key

I like the structure of that date, it has a good look to it.

Here is a link to JA Konrath’s rather interesting list of ebook predicitions from the start of the month. I missed it then and only read it today.

A brace of great posts from Booksquare; here & here.

Great post about what gamers can teach publishers, really fascinating:

the tabletop role-playing gaming industry started out by trying to model the methods of traditional publishing, found out the hard way that that really didn’t work for them (in the long run, it’s not working for big publishers either, but they’re BIG, so they didn’t notice as soon), and had to find new solutions. They were the first to adopt electronic publishing, shame-free POD printing, electronic-only publishing, podcasting-modules, mixed media releases, and every other experimental method anyone could think of, good or bad. That’s fine: they’re small, and experimenting is something small groups of people can DO that big groups can’t.

By the way is anyone getting the feeling that Seth Godin was SO far ahead of the curve with Small is the New Big? Coz I am!

Last but by far not least, the Irish Times has a list of fabulous books for kids this Christmas, including one of an un-mentioned (on this list) favourites (I thought another self commissioned title was pushing it!): Colm & The Lazarus Key by Kieran Mark Crowley who will be one of Ireland’s best known writers for children soon, of that I am certain. The smartly excellent cover is the work of the wonderful Emma over @ Snowbooks, if you need cover work, she’s your girl.

Reading like a demon, but only just keeping up!
Eoin

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

Children’s Books Ireland: Digital Developments Seminar

kindle_etch02

With thanks to Flickr user adafruit used under CC Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence

I’m working with the wonderful people at Children’s Books Ireland to make a Digital Developments Seminar happen in Tallaght Library on 28 November 2009. I’m really rather looking forward to it:

Digital Developments will focus on where digital changes have taken publishing so far and what further changes can be expected in the future. The seminar will also offer practical tools and strategies to authors, booksellers, and publishers alike, on how to take the next step into the world of digital and social media.

The half-day event will feature a keynote address from me and a panel discussion featuring Ivan O’Brien, Susan Carleton and Vanessa Robertson. It is going to be wonderful.

For more information visit the event page over at CBI.

I’m hoping that it will be practical, useful and focused on the real application of technology for authors, publishers and booksellers.
Eoin

Ancient Folk Tales of Ireland:

Hawkhill Publishing is a new-ish company under the direction of former Hughes & Hughes buyer Colm Ennis. They had a hit last year with the rather attractively packaged GAA Book Of Days and have released two new titles [If I Trust In You and Playing Dead] in 2009. Their third in 2009 is the reason for this post.

The Ancient Folk Tales Of Ireland Cover

The Ancient Folk Tales Of Ireland Cover


It was the cover that initially attracted me to Ancient Folk Tales of Ireland. I emailed Colm and he was kind enough to send me on an Advance Information sheet. I’m looking forward to seeing the book in physical form. From the AI:

Bringing the original Folk Tales collected by Douglas Hyde, and first presented to the reading public 120 years ago, to the children of today. Six stories from Hyde’s original collection have been beautifully illustrated in a classical Irish setting including old favourites such as ‘The King of Ireland’s Son’ and some lesser know stories such as ‘The Well at the End of the World.’ What makes this collection unique is that the actual language of the original storytellers has been retained to bring the children of today back beside the fire to hear the stories as they were told 120 years ago and first produced in the 1890 edition of Hyde’s ‘Beside the Fire.’
Produced in close association with the Douglas Hyde Estate, with an introduction by his grandson, every effort has been made to retain the original storytelling of the stories while removing some of the more obvious 19th Century influences to present the stories as they were told down the centuries.

IrishTalesOfMystery&Magic
This has been ripe for a re-issue and Colm has a good eye for packaging. I hope this does astonishingly well. It reminds me of the rather lovely packaging Mercier applied to Eddie Lenihan’s Irish Tales of Mystery & Magic.

Good luck to Hawkhill and Colm.
Eoin

Publishing, but not as we know it

Eoin Purcell

A screenshot of SCD Library Website

A screenshot of SCD Library Website

Hopes & Dreams
I went to Children’s Books Ireland’s talk on Thursday 11th June on the future: Publishing but not as we know it | ebooks, digital publishing and children’. Aside from the very minor quibble, that the panel had no publisher (odd given the topic) it was nonetheless by far the most interesting group assembled to talk about the topic that I have seen for some time in Ireland.

I arrived late and so missed Samatha Holman of the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency who I have seen talk recently about Google and possess probably the best understanding of Copyright law (both national and international) in Ireland. This added greatly to the discussion because it enabled her to cut through the hopes, dreams and wishes right down to the what was allowed and what had yet to be agreed, always useful when discussing the future!

I also missed Peadar Ó Guilín which annoyed me, as I found his contributions to the discussion after the main talks, fascinating, even if he seemed an evangelist for no longer needing publishers*. If I have him wrong, I’ll apologize.

Two other panelists really fascinated me too. The first was speaking as I arrived, John McNamee, President European Booksellers Federation spoke about the challenges of bookselling in the future and spoke of a vision where he sold the customer the intellectual property for a fee and then asked what format he would prefer it in. Seems a nice idea, though my gut told me that it wouldn’t work at a decentralized level and would work at a much more central level. But then, being proved wrong on that one, would be a bonus.

By far the most revelatory though was the South County Dublin Librarian, Georgina Byrne. She revealed the extent of their download services something its seems that has floated beneath the radar of nearly everybody in Irish publishing (certainly non-one has ever mentioned it to me).

They have partnered with Overdrive and now deliver up to 3000 titles in ebook and audio book form to members via their download zone.

If you like paper and love paper books then the message Georgina had to share was a depressing one. Children love the libraries Tumblebooks service which offers children’s books online. And, if you listen, read an watch one, you can see why. I tried Dinotrain and it is fun!

As Samantha Holamn said during the discussion, the panel and teh subsequent discussion was by far the best she had attended because it looked forward and I think that was due in large part to Oisín McGann who chaired the event quick wonderfully offering his well considered contributions and links out to funny and informative videos throughout.

I’ve left numerous side issues out but needless to say there was much discussion on Agents, Publishers, Contracts, Google, a little about Amazon, Scribd and a little about revenue models and changing cultural norms. It was a shame I had to leave so quickly when it ended I’d have liked to discuss some of the issues more with the panelists. Still, a thoroughly thought provoking evening.
Eoin

* It always amazes me that people would relish the disappearance of publishers wholesale. Yes some publishers might not be excellent and sometimes working relationship have become strained or just plain broken, but surely as an industry over the lifetime of their existence, publishers have been more than simply blood suckers?