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.