Whether or not you think the iPad is the "magical and revolutionary device" Apple (AAPL) wants you to believe it is, the tablet computer has people excited about digital reading like never before: 250,000 e-book downloads in the iPad's first 24 hours are serious business.
And like its smaller smartphone cousin the iPhone, many of the most popular applications are for books, including Amazon.com's (AMZN) Kindle for iPad and Apple's own iBookstore.
But books are also competing for customers' attention with movies, video games and other digital entertainment -- and with the iPad, the competition is especially fierce. So it's natural to use the iPad to explore new ways of hooking customers on books -- and for some authors, that's turning them into app developers and video game designers.
"Missing the Point"
Twenty-one-year-old Cody Brown, founder of New York University's blog The Local, even goes so far as to suggest that "if you, as an author, see the iPad as a place to 'publish' your next book, you are completely missing the point." He reasons that the device's multimedia platform and touchscreen interface can't help but transform what we think of as a book -- static text, maybe some illustrations -- into something more richly interactive.
Marion Maneker, a publishing industry analyst who blogs at The Big Money, generally agrees with Brown, saying "there is huge potential for iPad apps (or any other apps for that matter) to become the books of the 21st century."
But Maneker points out a flaw in Brown's thinking: While apps are already replacing reference books (think of the many dictionary apps already available), "the kind of book that is hardest to imagine as an app is one that relies on a narrative." It's hard to imagine novels or narrative non-fiction as apps, but it will become a whole lot easier in the future as the genre develops.
Create an iPhone Game
The video game Soul Trapper wasn't designed for the iPad, though it's available for download on the device. But longtime video game developer F.J. Lennon wasn't having much luck selling his thriller novel of the same name, and so decided to parlay his gaming industry experience to create an iPhone game that's been likened to "a darker, edgier Ghostbusters."
The paid app was downloaded 25,000 times, sparking enough interest that the book and two sequels were sold to Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster (CBS), for publication next January. The marketing will no doubt play up the gaming connection and emphasize Soul Trapper's humorous dialogue and Choose Your Own Adventure-style narrative.
Non-fiction writer Jonathan Eig followed the traditional steps in publishing his new book, Get Capone: The Secret Plot that Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster, set for April 27 release. He wrote the proposal, then the book, made himself available for interviews...and then came up with "Chicago Gangland Tour," a $2.99 app that acts as a virtual guide to the city's best underworld haunts of yore. As he explains in an interview with WalletPop, Eig's app could bring potential readers into Capone's world in a more meaningful way.
"Literally within a few blocks of my house, there are 10 or 12 spots where Capone's men bought machine guns, or ran brothels, or operated casinos -- lots of good stuff like that," says Eig. "With today's technology, you can just stand somewhere, pull out your phone, and know whose blood got spilled on that very spot."
"Think Creatively About Getting Attention"
The app took only a month to produce, thanks to the help of publisher Sutro Media, which gets half of the proceeds after Apple takes its 30% cut. And while the technology aspect was "a drag," Eig felt he needed to take this promotional plunge and be willing to try anything. "Books don't sell the way they used to... So you have to think creatively about getting attention."
In novelist Nick Cave's case, attention hasn't been a problem. But his most recent work, The Death of Bunny Munro, was his first in almost two decades, and he felt it would take something special to make the book stand out. So Cave sought out the startup company Enhanced Editions to create an iPhone app that enriches the text with a number of audio and video add-ons. The Bunny Munro app, which retails for $16.99, includes the full e-book, the unabridged audiobook read by Cave (with a soundtrack co-created by him and Warren Ellis), and 11 video shorts featuring Cave reading from the book.
Customers who downloaded the Bunny Munro app seem to like the extra goodies bundled with the novel. Presenting at the Tools of Change technology conference earlier this year, Enhanced Editions co-founder Peter Collinridge said that users who downloaded the app spent five times longer with it than the average iPhone app. More surprising was that the audio add-ons proved to be more popular than the video readings, and that the app was used the most during the wee hours of the night -- between 1 and 2 a.m.
Take Apps Market Seriously
Sales figures for the Bunny Munro app haven't been released, but Collinridge did tell DailyFinance that they account for roughly 13% of total hardcover sales for Cave's novel. The response has been strong enough for Enhanced Editions to create apps for other notable books, such as President Obama's 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father, and children's book bestseller Philip Pullman's new book of non-fiction, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.
It's too early to draw accurate conclusions about whether app sales have an effect on book sales. Book publishers and authors need to take the apps market seriously, even if publishing apps runs the risk of cannibalizing book sales.
That's a fear Jonathan Eig is mindful of: "If people are busy all the time with iPhone apps and Facebook, maybe they won't have time to read," he told WalletPop. "And while the app is very cool, I have to say the book is better."
An earlier version of this story misstated the profession of Nick Cave's collaborator, Warren Ellis. He is a musician and composer, not to be mistaken for the writer of comics, screenplays and novels.
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