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Books as apps deserve serious consideration

They may be more important than you think

While following FutureBook 12 recently (#fbook12) a topic came to mind that I feel needs to gain additional traction: Books as apps play an important role vs. existing ebook platforms.

This is a frightening future for many in publishing (and for many authors) but it’s true.

Books as apps enable authors to control the key components necessary to ensure their works are freely available and readily shareable. When an author is the provider of the book in app form, they decide what can be done in and with the book. Can comments be made? Can paragraphs be copied and shared? Can margin notes be shared / publicly visible in a way that authors want them to be (e.g. to all readers of the book) vs. in a controlled environment where the retailer determines the way a reader can engage.

Books as apps deliver:

  • A direct connection to the reader vs. the retailer
  • Reinforcement of the author’s brand on the homescreen vs. the retailer’s brand.
  • The ability to sell directly to readers to increase margins
  • The ability to interact directly with readers within the work
  • The ability to manage use of their works with respect to sharing, quoting, etc.

These opportunities (and many more) don’t / won’t / can’t exist in the current ebook platforms. That’s because they simply don’t operate to the benefit of the platform.

Books as apps don’t have anything to do with technology. Books as apps have everything to do with:

  • who has control of the content
  • who has control of the content ecosystem
  • who owns the financial relationship with the reader
  • who owns the personal relationship with the reader

The idea behind the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, etc. platforms is lock-in. These platforms are hardware and software uniquely designed to keep the works, commerce and conversations all within their environment, all within their control. While the platforms do provide a few glimpses of “control” to the author and reader, these vanish when thoroughly inspected.

Everyone inherently knows this. It’s discussed frequently. Yet, it’s still staggering when you read it. The existing ebook platforms are about benefit to the platform provider. They are only secondarily (at best) about benefit to the author and to the reader.

In this model, works become marketing vehicles for customer acquisition for the ebook platform. They are not about acquisition to the author’s platform. This model doesn’t fundamentally support the author’s long-term prospects.

The real question is, when will authors begin to take steps to gain full control of their digital future?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/dwpaxson Dana Paxson

    I’ve already done this, and I’ve patented more of it than I’ve done. When I showed my demo to a math mentor back in 2005, he said, “You’ve got to do this for math textbooks!” The problem I’ve had is that no one has paid attention. I did my work starting back in 2004-5, and I’ve got patents on it dating back nearly to that point, but I can’t get any traction with others because the whole thing is too broad and too new. Book people don’t get the app part, app people don’t get the book part, and authors struggle with both. Since I’m all three, I see the problems and some ways to solve them. See http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=29752365&trk=hb_tab_pro_top

  • http://twitter.com/russm305 305 Games

    I wonder if Apple would allow an established author to sell their book as an app or would they force them to sell it through there iBookStore

    • jwikert

      I think you’ll find it hard to publish a simple book as an app through iTunes. You really need to make sure it has a lot of rich functionality you can’t recreate in a traditional ebook. The more you can distinguish it from the simple print-to-e conversion the better your chances of getting Apple to approve it.

      • Trim

        Is there a manual or available software to be found somewhere to make it distinguishable?

        • jwikert

          I’m not aware of any official guidelines for this. It’s purely at Apple’s discretion, so there are no guarantees they’ll even accept an app a developer submits, especially if they feel it’s most of a simple ebook and not a true app.

  • QuanEconGuy

    This notion is wonderfully consistent with the anti-web (i.e. web = open access) value of reading a physical book. It could also give new life and purpose to the worn-out book blurb: one author’s audience being selectively introduced to other work by grace of the author via a link. I suspect, though, that in the long run readers will tire of reaching for material with such limited scope. I don’t forsee a reader controlled playlist function as viable for reading matter — I love using Pocket in the browser but that is much more suitable to shorter length, highly focused reading.