Penguin Demonstrates iPad-Bound Books: Amazing, but Are These Really "Books"?


If publishers (and, more importantly, the public) really embrace the iPad, we're going to be seeing more than just black-text-on-white books—if you wanted that, you'd buy a Kindle, not a giant iPhone with Wi-Fi, a huge LCD, and a top-of-its-class mobile processor. But then, are these crazy game/video/audio hybrids really "books"? If Penguin's amazing examples are a sign of things to come, we may be asking that question quite often.

Said Penguin's CEO, John Makinson, at an event this week:

We will be embedding audio, video, and gaming into everything we do. The .epub format, which is the standard for ebooks at the present, is designed to support traditional narrative text, but not this cool stuff that we're now talking about. So for the time being, at least, we'll be creating a lot of our digital content as applications, to be sold on app stores, in HTML.

He wasn't kidding. Check out this video.

That clip shows how dedicated Penguin is to truly taking advantage of the iPad's capabilities. That children's book that opens the clip is really more a game than a book (kids, of course, will likely see that as a positive). The "coloring book" section is very clever, even if the idea of instantly coloring a section with a tap is likely far less fun for kids than frantic scribbling—but the point is, frantic scribbling is possible too. Vampire Academy, too, despite its eye-rolling trend-hopping premise, is more of a game or community than a book, but again, imagine the possibilities. Extend the idea a little farther, and you've got workshopping capabilities for budding writers, or collaborative blogs and forums.

Moving onto the more adult fare, the travel book looks like a far more comprehensive guide than say, a similar iPhone app, really taking advantage of the big screen. Starfinder is actually an old idea; Google Sky Maps is a free download for Android (version 2.0 or later) and does the exact same thing, with more accuracy.

But here's the thing. None of those examples are books. Lest you think I'm being a snob, clutching onto my glue-bound tomes of pulverized tree pulp after their expiry date, Penguin doesn't even think these things are books. I know that because Penguin intends to sell this digital content in the app store, as individual apps, not in the iBooks bookstore. There's nothing wrong with that—these apps look great, and the prospect of enriching the definition of "book" is exciting—but as companies take advantage of the iPad, the publishing industry is going to have to expand in ways we don't quite understand yet.

Eventually, ebooks may have specific criteria, like an ebook has to consist of only text, or any content that needs to be updated regularly is classified as an app. But those days are to come. We'll see once the iPad and its ilk actually see release.

[PaidContent via Gizmodo]

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  • jarrold

    One thing that's fast becoming apparent is that kids really really love the ipad. The marriage of great applications and the intuitive touch device have resulted in something that kids can learn without any prior skills or knowledge.

    And Children's books is one category that is definitely going to to be reinvented. It's only been a few months since the ipad launch and we already have some unique and interesting versions of well known books:
    Alice in Wonderland
    Aesop's Fables
    The Little Mermaid

    I really can't wait to see how this space evolves.

  • Fredrik Stai

    I'm excited about the fact that Penguin are building much of their interactive books in HTML. Speaking as a web designer, I'm hoping editorial design for tablet platforms could become a substantial market in the future. And even if that may not happen, we're already seeing how the iPhone, and now the iPod, is influencing web design trends (clean, intuitive, bold). Good stuff.

  • Minimal Ist

    Wow, let's multimedia like it's 1998! Macrome... (sorry) ADOBE must be gnashing their teeth that the Shockwave player isn't available for the iPad.