Stephen Fry owned what was possibly the first Apple Mac in Britain (Douglas Adams had the other), so it's fitting that his new autobiography is not only getting a paper release, but also arrives as a fully interactive iPad/iPhone app that hints at the future of e-biographies by letting you read it however you prefer.
The app's called MyFry, and it's coming in parallel to the traditional printed (and audiobook) publication of The Fry Chronicles. The hardback edition will whisk its way to you complete with slippery paper jacket—and all the usual printed bumff inside about how wonderful a writer Fry is—for $20, and the first thing to note about the MyFry iPad app is that it actually costs almost as much, at $15. That's pretty steep for an iOS app, given that people are used to paying much less (or nothing) but it is, rather cunningly, cheaper than the printed edition—lending support to the notion publishers should charge less for digital books as there's actually much less fuss involved in making and distributing them.
But that's where Fry's e-book departs from the norm. The digital edition probably took more fuss to make, as it contains every line from the physical copy but is much more interactive. The app seems to have taken a good deal of inspiration from Douglas Adams' famous Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy in that it all hinges around a dynamic index that lets you re-order the text however you prefer: You may choose to dial through the book in terms of the famous people he references, or by looking for Fry's feelings versus his thoughts (one index setting lets you do this). It's almost the Hitch Hiker's Guide to Stephen Fry, if you will.
You could also accuse the e-book of being an extension of the form of celebrity cyber-interactivity Fry's been making his all own by using tools like Twitter. He's a blogger and a prolific tweeter (to the extent he had to go on a self-imposed tweet holiday while writing) and his nearly 1.8 million followers are used to his missives about good causes, his feelings, his personal news, interesting Net things he's found and random observations about the current cricket scores. Characteristically, a tweet this morning also promotes the new book:
SO many ways to get hold of a book these days. I mean there's really no excuse http://bit.ly/myfryapp #shamelesswhoring
MyFry doesn't have the interactive graphics, embedded movie clips, links to background reading and social networking features of other attempts to reinvent the book (here we're thinking about the new digital Neal Stephenson work The Mongoliad) but by concentrating on maximizing how one piece of the book works—its interactive index—MyFry is definitely showing how even traditionally plain-text publications like biographies may be in the future.
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