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 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.

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