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As the race to be be ebook format of choice hots up, Penguin is making some bold, experimental bets. These first-look demos of forthcoming b…

Penguin's Stargazer iPad book

As the race to be be ebook format of choice hots up, Penguin is making some bold, experimental bets. These first-look demos of forthcoming books from iPad’s iBook Store, presented by Penguin Books’ CEO John Makinson in London on Tuesday, give an idea how publishers might approach Apple’s tablet…

Many of Penguin’s iPad books seem hardly to resemble “books” at all, but rather very interactive learning experiences, from its Dorling Kindersley and kids imprints – the Vampire Academy “book” is “an online community for vampire lovers” with live chat between readers, and the Paris travel guide switches to street map view when placed on a table.

“The iPad represents the first real opportunity to create a paid distribution model that will be attractive to consumers,” an excited Makinson told FT’s Digital Media & Broadcasting Conference. “The psychology of payment on tablets is different to the psychology on a PC.”

But Penguin’s thinking bigger than just the one device. Makinson said he sees ebooks hitting 10 percent of book sales next year (it’s currently four percent in the U.S. and Penguin’s ebook sales)…

We will be embedding audio, video and streaming in to 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 content as applications, for sale on app stores and HTML, rather than in ebooks. The definition of the book itself is up for grabs.

“We don’t know whether a video introduction will be valuable to a consumer. We will only find answers to these questions by trial and error.”

Makinson’s hardly retiring in negotiation with the key players – says he met Apple, Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) last week. But he views the key issue of revenue share with each as an opportunity

Asked if he wasn’t about to give away 30 percent of Penguin sales to Apple (as is the split with apps), Makinson told paidContent:UK, during Q&A, this is better than the equivalent print agency model, in which publishers let retailers keep 50 percent.

Record labels are now lamenting having given Apple so much control of their industry, but Penguin appears to be relishing trying out all these new ebook formats, seeing “the opportunity to test pricing and access to consumer data”.

Not that Makinson wouldn’t take more from Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). “There is an argument for saying Apple needs the content, that they should be paying us for our content,” he said. But that argument hasn’t worked.

A copy of Pride And Prejucide might conceivably come with videos of Keira Knightly and Colin Firth (the movie adaptation’s cast), he said, but: “We need to understand how much the consumer will pay for that, we need to engage in dynamic pricing.

  1. dmitrismyslov Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    What you say is true about record companies regretting having “given Apple so much control,” but in fact Apple was just a small computer company with an infinitesimal market share when they did this. It was the consumer who freely voted for Apple — by buying it’s products — that in fact gave Apple the control, in spite of the record moguls’ futile attempts to create competition.

    One could also argue that by insisting on DRM but not requiring interoperability on all brands of hardware the record companies were setting the table for domination of distribution by one company. The publishing industry has already committed this error but it appears that the results might be different this time.

  2. FWIW, Keira Knightley’s co-star was Matthew MacFayden. Colin Firth played Darcy to Jennifer Ehle’s Elizabeth Bennet.

  3. Looks really great, but you have to make it cheap. If people find it expensive, they’ll pirate it. Look how well the app store works, part of his success is that you can buy great apps for 1-2$, and even awesome 3D games for 5-10$ or less.

  4. James C. Roberts III Thursday, March 4, 2010

    Penguin’s attitude and experiments represent just the kind of innovation that the iPad will engender–and just the tonic for books. They can take a few pages from the playbooks of websites–links to supporting or related materials, blogs and the like. By selling the book to a reader and including such links they actually generate traffic, which in turn becomes its own revenue source. And, as Amazon has demonstrated, one a person buys a book written by one author, that reader will probably buy either another book from that author or “related” books. The publishers can thus capture that added revenue.

  5. It’s funny how people think giving up 30% of your business to Apple in return for payment processing and distribution is a bad deal. It’s an insanely great deal if you count all of the disintermediation Apple makes possible.

  6. Perfect time to reshuffle copyright. Plain text will be free and only the multimedia extras and doodads added to a story will make it worth a purchase. Consider 2010 a dividing line. Almost everything published prior, just give up, cut it loose, it’s all going to get scanned, whether by libraries or Google or individuals. For everything to be published after, start working on eye-popping, multi-threaded immersional experiences that knock you out like Avatar. Use the text as a free “summary” to sell people on it. It’s all video anyway and has been going that way ever since TV was invented. Just been getting more obvious lately with the pace of change.

  7. It opens an interesting opportunity for artists too. Say, creating illustrations for many different books and the reader gets to decide who’s illustrations they see depending on who’s vision fits what they feel. So, when you download a book you get multiple options. It might create a new boom in illustration and a new market place for visual artists.
    The only down side I see to having so much media and making the book reading experience more like watching movies or the internet, is that opportunity to have complete control over the vision you see. I think thats an important part of reading books.

  8. So I’m guessing this is at a Financial Times event?

    I’ll be able to figure that out but it’s odd to see how you’re not even labeling YouTube videos with the related event.

  9. This was in New York, not the UK. Makinson was speaking at Penguin USA’s annual meeting.

  10. Penguin and the Financial times are both part of the Pearson Group. I think this was taken from the annual results presentation for Pearson – announced on Monday. The FT logo / name is just the bottom entry on a list of all the parts of the group which also includes Pearson Education, Pearson VUE, Edexcel etc.

    1. Robert is pretty clear about where the video comes from in the article:
      “told FT’s Digital Media & Broadcasting Conference.” This post and video are
      part of his coverage from the event.

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