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Penguin Plans to Make Books Shinier with iPad

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Penguin doesn’t want to just continue releasing your standard, garden-variety e-books on a new platform with the iPad. CEO John Makinson showed off what his company had in mind for the platform at a presentation earlier this week, as reported by paidContent.

Penguin is apparently looking to sidestep the iBookstore altogether and sell content through the regular App Store, at least unless Apple (s aapl) has additional formats beyond .epub to offer for the iBook app. The publisher wants to offer embedded interactive content in its titles, including audio, video and device-to-device functions.

Looking at what Penguin is planning, I’m reminded of those elaborate electronic reading learning systems designed for children, or the original electronic books, which included simple noisemakers alongside traditional paper texts. In other words, it’s kind of neat, especially if you’re a five-year old, but it doesn’t really strike me as the exciting future of books Penguin is making it out to be. Besides, I don’t want a five-year old getting my iPad all grubby and sticky. Here’s a video of what the publisher was showing off:

The books demoed that were aimed at a more mature audience were a little more impressive, but I was mostly struck by how much they resembled regular apps more than anything else. They seemed like slightly less capable apps, in fact, in that they were still trying to look like books despite there being no point to that. People have developed great medical and astronomy apps for the iPhone (and iPad, by extension) platform. Why would I choose a book that’s been somewhat awkwardly made into an app instead of something designed, from concept to finished product, specifically for the platform?

As someone who avidly enjoys reading, and also buys more iPhone apps than is probably wise or justifiable, even if I do write for an Apple-centric blog, I’m not sold on Penguin’s vision of the future of books on the iPad. I don’t read books for the same reason that I use software applications or interact with rich media, and I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of mixing the two concepts. I think in doing so, you run the risk of losing the value of one or both of these activities.

A quote by Makinson illustrates exactly what scares me about Penguin’s plans:

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.

Cool stuff? Books aren’t cool. They don’t need to be, and your desperate attempts at staying relevant won’t change that.

11 Responses to “Penguin Plans to Make Books Shinier with iPad”

  1. Jennifer

    I, for one, am greatly intrigued by how traditional “book” content can be augmented to be more multimedia-esque. More and more educationally based book content also includes CD-Roms along with additional video based augmentions that have traditionally been kept separate although they are usually packaged together (book + CD/DVD); this being the case, having a medium where these worlds could come together is a dream. Penguin, it would seem, is attempting to show what this potential future for ebooks could hold, but that remains to be seen. I can only hope it is a bright future.

  2. I love this enhanced e-book stuff. I am already, (writing? producing? creating? developing?) a ‘book’ for the iPad that incorporates quality graphic design with images, videos, narrative, slide shows, reference links, and more on each page. This is exciting and fun.

  3. I am amazed at some comments that don’t like this. No matter what you can just read the book parts and not go into the interaction part. And in most cases Novels won’t be done like this, just the books that make sense, the learning books, the children books etc.

    This alone, to me, makes the iPad, the single most amazing technology product ever created. Yes, ever. Better than the computer, better than a PS3, better than a Wii, better than the iPhone, better than printers, lightbulbs, etc.

    This device will revolutionize the way we read, view and learn.

  4. Dr. Quark

    This looks like a great idea for distance learning courses for schools and universities. This would be an ideal platform for writing and using textbooks. One thing I would like to see available is a 21st century version of Hypercard for the production of interactive textbooks and references that could be made available on the iPad for less than printed textbooks.

  5. Tsubame

    While I don’t think this is great for novels, I think it is potentially very very powerful for reference books, textbooks, and the like.

    That said, there are a few times when I’m reading like, an involved fantasy book and they mention a location, and I just want to pop open the map to see where that is. A nice big full colour map that I can pull out at anytime while reading a book like that would be lovely.

  6. not so skeptical

    And imagine having the ability to click on a reference or footnote, and instantaneously you are able to view it.

    How will this affect authors? see more revenue or less?

  7. This would be good for maps: lots of books have maps and they’re usually poor. Also, illustrations that would have been limited in book form can be interactive in iPad form and that might be nice. Instead of a simple floor plan of the mansion the murder occurred in, you could have a wal-through app that gives the user a much better idea of the scene. Graphic novels … I don’t know about that one, I’m not a regular reader of graphic novels.

    I think the key here will be companion content that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative. If you start mixing media, you will lose the unique flavor of good books. On the other hand, people who read “good books” are a population declining steadily and Penguin may be trying to open up to audiences that don’t have the patience for good books.

  8. Richard W

    Just another reason to distract me from reading the book and never get back to it….

    Sure its a great idea, but all these bells and whistles cause a great distraction from what could potentially be great content. Its like, oh dare I say it, a flash based website. Do I really need an annoying video playing every time I load a site up, no. So why would I want my book to do it to.

  9. not so skeptical

    I appreciate the vision that Penguin is pursuing. I do agree that the creation of a book into an app is flawed or misguided, though the extent of interactive engagement through ebooks will expand greatly. I can see a story needing to branch out from the text, maybe through links to other docs, or websites, or news sites, and yes, even videos, which will open up the reading experience. The revolution is coming, and artists and authors will be pushed to the edge of their creativity to expand the content available to the consumers.