First Look: How Penguin Will Reinvent Books With iPad


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.



As a writer/artist, I’d like to know what is the software that is used to develop an interactive book that can be delivered on the iPad.

And, would customers be able to simply download the interactive book to their iPad as they do with a Penguin Book? Would authors be able to self-distribute via the internet? Or, is it a proprietary delivery system?


I’m wondering when there will be time for quiet reflection and contemplation, with all these bells and whistles going off? Do people still see a value in reflection, just being? Or am I only showing my age. I also appreciate Meliphant’s comment about losing the control over the vision you see………….


Can i think this is the battle between apple and Penguin? They will cooperate, behind of this fact they should share benifits from this project.
of course, the battle is no business of third software companies like ifunia and aneesoft who survived on providing software based on apple’s products.

Peter Pedant

Pride And Prejucide? I like the concept of committing prejucide…

James C. Roberts III

The reference to Living Books from Broderbund is spot on. It seems that things come around after a few “early waves.” Take MySpace or Facebook. Well, how do they differ from GeoCities (which sold for $3.5 billion dollars)? The difference between Broderbund and Penguin Books for the iPad is that now we have a much, much larger audience equipped with the proper platforms and connections, plus we now have the tools for almost anyone to create such books.

Inventions always go through generations or iterations. This can be called “Broderbund 2.0/”

Tina Mozingo

I want to try this in the classroom. I need to write a grant!!! :)


Looks like a great approach for some books. The anatomy and travel books make perfect sense for this type of treatment. But I really don’t like to see a kids’ book like Spot turned into an interactive extravaganza. When, if ever, are kids going to be introduced to — you know — books?


The children’s book example reminds me a lot of the Broderbund Living Books series. If done right this could actually be a great way add to books. Especially the children’s ones. But you have to put serious love/care into it like the Living Books people did or it just comes off as crappy/boring as Ed Dunn mentions.

Done right though it could be a big deal. The Living Books were incredibly popular with my little brothers growing up and with my students when I taught elementary school. And I can see the tactile aspect of it with a touch screen being really cool.

Ed Dunn

Andrew J – Thanks for the clarification about Pearson. This make sense as I saw nothing new or exciting. This is not e-books or revolutionary, this is stuff you find in the $10 software aisle that your kid really don’t want. MSN Encarta was more compelling than this.

Going to embed streaming, video and audio – yeah that is really original.

I believe revolutionary in e-books is when someone remembers the 80s when we had the DOS version of “Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy” and AD&D Choose your own adventure books and realize that is actually the true next-gen future of e-books.

Andrew J

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.

Staci D. Kramer

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.

Village Guy

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

Clyde Smith

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.


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.


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.


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.

James C. Roberts III

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.

David Rojas

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.


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


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.

Comments are closed.