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.
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.
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.
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!