How the iPad Could Make Books Go Viral



With just five days to go before the iPad launches, plenty have predicted that Apple’s tablet will decimate Amazon’s dominance over the ebook world and how, together, the two companies are screwing the publishers with tough dealmaking. Far fewer prognosticators have considered how smaller companies–and, in turn, authors–are going to benefit from eReaders. In short, have you ever thought that the available technology is going to make books go viral?

Smashwords (449,687,462 words published so far) has already inked a deal with Apple to make its titles available on the iBook Store and says a deal with Sony’s eBook store is not far behind. Mark Coker, CEO of the online publishing house, offers such a simple service to authors that it’s hard not to imagine the business model taking over the entire literary world, putting dead-tree publishers in the same position that the record labels are–over-budget and unloved.


The firm’s basic function is to sell an author’s book. You send the finished manuscript to Smashwords’ Web site and agree on a price–for the iPad, that means anything that ends in .99, to tie in to the iTunes pricing format. The firm then publishes it just about any format you want it in and distributes it to sites including Barnes & Noble, Stanza (for the iPhone) and Kobo (any other smartphone format.)

Bookworms will love Smashwords, as the firm allows you (in some cases) to read half of a book before committing yourself to a purchase. And authors stand to make a whole heap more than they would with a traditional publishing house. Of course, costs are lower than a traditional book, and there’s a lot more clever marketing than the fustier, old-school publishers could offer.


Enhanced Editions is an electronic publishing house at the forefront of the new wave of publishers. Its eBooks come as iPhone apps that are breathtakingly well thought-out. Authors include Barack Obama, Hilary Mantel, Philip Pullman, and musician Nick Cave, whose novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, comes in app form with a whole host of extras–including a video of Cave himself reading extracts. You can choose whether to listen to the book in audio form, or read it straight off the screen of your iPhone, changing fonts as you go. Die-hard fans of The Wire will be pleased to know that two David Simon books (one, The Corner, was the precursor of the cult TV show) will be available soon.

The Smashword’s Web site is brutally honest about its reach compared to a mammoth campaign by a global publishing house. Will I sell a lot of books, asks one of the FAQs. “Probably not,” runs the response. “Some Smashword authors don’t sell a single book. Others sell many… Authors should publish their books on Smashwords not because they’ll make a lot of sales today, but as a long-term investment in their writing career.”

It’s a good bet, however, that the iPad will, much more than the Kindle ever did, change to a certain extent our reading habits. And if in three years’ time the iPad is as ubiquitous as the iPhone is (walking up a street in London yesterday, every single one of the dawdlers I passed was looking at their iPhone) then Smashword may well be eating several of the 450-or-so million of it’s already-published words.

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About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.