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How-To Books Created For The iPad

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Most of the interactive iPad books published up to now have been for kids, but the first title from Open Air Publishing is decidedly adult. Speakeasy Cocktails: Learn From the Modern Mixologists, out today as a $9.99 iPad app, features video tutorials, graphics and interactive recipes. But it is also a good example of how how-to books–a category that seems ever less relevant in an age when most of the information can be found free online–can adapt and prosper.

Speakeasy Cocktails was written by “mixology journalist” Rob Willey, who has written for Details, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, and The New York Times (NYSE: NYT). It includes over 90 minutes of video tutorials (how to swizzle) featuring Jim Meehan, founder of NYC speakeasy bar PDT, and Joseph Schwartz, founder of Little Branch and Silver Lining, along with recipes, an interactive map of speakeasy-revival cocktail bars across the world, and a history of the speakeasy during Prohibition. There is also a large buying guide with recommended brands of spirits and mixers, glasses and special tools like muddlers. Each item has a buy link–many to Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), other to specialty mixology web stores. Users can take notes, highlight and bookmark.

The app is very cool, but, as Open Air founder Jon Feldman stressed to me, it’s also a good way to learn new skills. Print how-to books are, obviously, static; live classes are expensive and hard to get to; lots of web video is poorly shot and suspect. Done right, books like this might be able to breathe new life into the how-to category. The question is whether big publishers and guide books–like Wiley’s Dummies series–can adapt as quickly as small startups like Open Air. has added a lot of video to its website. Right now, on the homepage, there are videos about…how to use an iPad. But most iPad owners aren’t looking to a book series that launched in 1991 as their first stop for guidance. The audience that Open Air is targeting with its Speakeasy book app would never buy a Dummies book to learn how to use their iPad. The question for this group is whether it would ever buy a how-to book at all.

Feldman previously led business development at CollegeHumor and also worked at MTV. Director of product development Alison Go is a former journalist at U.S. News & World Report and the Boston Globe. Both received their MBAs from Wharton, where they met (this is starting to sound like a wedding announcement, which I did not intend). Open Air is hiring to fill its New York office and more books–on topics like wine, coffee, dog training, poker and bike repair–are in the works.