Who Said Books Had to be Written on Paper???

I must have drank some seriously potent iPhone Kool-aid while I was in San Fran for the Web 2.0 Summit. Ever since I have been back all I can even think, dream or talk about is the huge potential behind the iPhone. The problem is that some people, in some cases even Apple, do not seem to be fully appreciating the scope of what is possible here. 

The most recent example of a company failing to see the full potential behind this new platform is Penguin Publishing. I received an email from a colleague at the start of the week letting me know about a new application that Penguin released. It’s part of a broad sweeping initiative by the publisher to embrace the new social web, so kudos to them for finally jumping on the band wagon. However their iPhone application simply does the following, and I quote, “It makes the features of the Web site—the blog, book previews, podcasts, news and Penguin-specific book-finding tools—available on the iPhone.” Wow, awesome, but am I missing something here? What about the potential of literally selling people books to read on the iPhone through the application? They now have a direct channel to a medium that users can easily read their books on, why not skip over all the book re-sellers and simply sell the digital format of these books through their app? I dont get it! I am not saying that they should stop using book stores to sell their products, but the iPhone is a highly effective tool for reading books, why not go straight to the source? 

I recently downloaded Stanza (an e-book reader application for the iPhone) and blasted through Animal Farm in 3 days flat. The reading experience on the iPhone is an absolute pleasure. I actually enjoyed reading using my phone over and above reading a traditional paper back (I may just be a seriously early adopter though). The best part about it is that I never have to lug around another book with me. All I have to do is go to Stanza’s book store, download a new book and its with me everywhere I go. If the iPhone really is to become a new medium for content, why would Penguin develop an application that does not include an ebook reader so you can simply download their new releases and old classics directly into your phone while your on the go?

The other element of this whole debacle that eludes me is why Apple has not made an e-book reader part of their own native application bundle. They have an internet browser, a music and video player, a camera, but no book reader. If this is really going to become the new media device of the future, they certainly should include the most trusted form of content … text! And whats more is they have the perfect distribution channel to be selling e-books through; iTunes! They already sell audio books, why not sell ebooks also to be read directly through an application on their phone just like MP3’s. Hell they can even include DRM for all I care, to get the publishers on the board. 

There is a lot of potential here in the field of text based content on the iPhone that a lot of people seem to be looking over in favour of more flashy features. I love all the potential behind some of these new innovative features but In my opinion (please keep in mind the line I stated off with, that I definitely drank some potent iPhone kool-aid) the iPhone has the potential to destroy Amazon’s Kindle business and in turn the future of Amazon’s e-book sales. Who wants to lug around an extra device or another book when you already have everything you need in your pocket? Not me, thats for sure.



Filed under digital publishing, e-readers, mobile, Reading

5 responses to “Who Said Books Had to be Written on Paper???

  1. So, when can we expect a spreed e-book reader? 🙂

  2. Pingback: Posts about Ebooks as of December 13, 2008 | The Lessnau Lounge

  3. As a life-long book junkie, I differ with those who feel that reading on a screen is as satisfying and is equivalent. I DO spend about ten hours a day in front of my computer, reading happily, but when I do research and read non-fiction as a scholar, scribbling in the book in all kinds of well developed ways is not only part of the learning process, it becomes an ever-retrievable record of the original interaction itself. Similarly, re-reading and scribbling more becomes an additional record of one’s experience with the book. This cannot be done on an IPhone. Sorry to be such a heretic, bet them’s the facts.

  4. Mark

    A lot of what you’re asking is, tentatively, being offered already by the major publishers. Pearson (owners of Penguin) says that there are indeed books available through the iPhone, as individual apps. In fact, in December 2009 there were more book apps than games apps just spend a minute thinking about that stat!). Book apps are also currently the fastest growing single type of app in the app store.

    The customer experience in buying from the apps store is woeful. Apple have not made it easy. One has to wade through the tens of thousands of book apps to find the title they want. This is one reason why I have refused to make individual apps of our own books — the channel is structured in such a way that it does the opposite of leveraging my ROI, it effectively makes it impossible for me to sell. This is to change, as I understand it. Apple is to launch an iBookstore which will accept the open epub format.

    And this brings me to another big shortfall in the iPxxx platform. Apple will be wrapping its own DRM around an ‘open’ standard! Every book that one buys directly as an app or, in future, from the iBookstore will be a dead end. What happens next year when you buy an Android phone and want to port your books across? You can’t. You lose your entire library.

    Which is why third party apps like Stanza or Kindle app are a slightly more attractive proposition to publishers-own apps — these third party platforms/apps are made interoperable. I had a recent discussion with a leading app provider for publishers based in San Diego. They indicated that they are looking to make their iPhone and iPad book apps interoperable with Android hardware.

    Interoperability, THAT’S the game if you’re serious in delivering value to your readers, not just flat dumb apps that die with the brand of hardware you choose.

    So why don’t publishers create their own interoperable apps? That’s the million dollar question. They are publishers, not software houses, and to transform the core of their operations at this stage is a huge challenge. Moreover, the ebook market is still nascent, and almost everything is ruled by ROI in that respect. Whilst ebook revenue remains a minor (less than 10%) part of the top line, the investment required cannot be matched.

    What I hope we will see is publishers buying up small software businesses in future to be able to retain control of their markets. But for now, I’m waiting for the penny to drop with customers once the whole iPxxx hype machine settles…. the realisation that every ‘book’ app you buy and read is effectively disposable and ultimately money down the drain. It is only through platforms like Kindle app (to name just one third-party platform) that the customer can be given interoperability (Kindle eReaders, Kindle for the PC, Kindle app for iPhone, and now RIM announces Kindle on BlackBerries) and longevity.

    There is much that publishers can do to push ebooks and move away from their reliance on print. Some more than others, for sure. But to answer you question at the top, print is still 90 % of a publisher’s revenue stream. And although they have one eye on the future, they’re also very aware of today. It’s probably unfashionable to quote the Boston Consulting Group matrix these days, but the paper-based print book is slowly moving into the space of Cash Cow — as such, the thing to do is to milk it for all its worth whilst keeping an eye on your developing Stars (ebooks).

  5. Pingback: Spreed:Blog – Mobile News for Media and Publishing Executives » iPhone OS 4 : Everything We Have Been Waiting For, But Nothing More

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