Kill the presses: time to re-think the definition of the book

The e-book world has emerged as a viable alternative to its print cousin. It has moved ahead in distribution numbers and is well on its way to democratizing the development and delivery of books. If you are an optimist like me, you look at the contribution that mobile has made to this as significant as the invention of the printing press. The change in ease with which you can publish a book independently is starting to turn the artists – writers, illustrators, musicians, etc – into entrepreneurs, the same way that mobile turned software developers into app makers and business people.

Does this shift in publishing prove the “appification” of the publishing industry or is this just another form of enhanced multi-media experience? Some say this is the way books were meant to be consumed, others look at the zombie-like effect these glowing screens have on the user and wonder if the very nature of the “book” is under assault. Whatever your view, consumers have spoken and adopted this new format of book distribution and consumption faster than any other to date.

So what does it take to build a business in this new book publishing world?

With this business comes many challenges that really do mimic the app economy challenges we’ve been seeing and some of the strategies sound surprisingly familiar to the plight of the app-maker including resonance, marketing and adhering to a consistent release schedule.

The new new book?

What does it mean to build a book for tablets and mobile devices? Seems like a simple question with a simple answer but it really isn’t. We aren’t talking about a traditional book – those exist but they aren’t the REAL future of digital books, they are a legacy product that will bridge the paper and digital worlds – for now. I’m talking about the new new book, the books that are built to take full advantage of the powerful devices we carry around.

Traditional books, the ones on your bookshelf today, haven’t changed much since the printing press was invented but they, just like so many industries, are being disrupted by the tablets and mobile devices we all carry. Books are being re-imagined in ways that make sense, in ways that take full advantage of the capabilities of the devices – which is far greater than the paper they are currently being printed on.

Paper is paper. You can choose the thickness, the shade of white and the font. You can design a cover, throw in some art and a table of contents but paper is still paper. Paper books don’t need to be ported to multiple papers, they don’t need to be tested in multiple screen sizes and they don’t need to be built specifically for small bite-sized engagements.

During this transition – which HAS started btw – existing books will be brought into the digital world and there are certain requirements and expectations that readers will have. Understanding how to move the book into digital without compromising the message and brand of the book while adding interactive elements is an immediate challenge – one that needs a strategy and plenty of thought. Adding the right form of interactivity to a book at the right time enhances the experience. Going over the top when it doesn’t add anything will ruin the experience.

Is the book as we know it dead? I’ve heard authors many times over, state without hesitation, that the digital version of their book is the way they had envisioned it when they set out to write it. The full, rich features that come with digital ink never drying makes this form of “reading” (which could be watching, listening, drawing, you name it) more in line with the way our brains function.

Publishers redo and writers rejoice

Is the publishing business dead? Not yet. Perhaps it never will die if they quickly realize that the written word is only a part of what is coming. I think the authors realize this – writers like Gary Vaynerchuk offered a completely different experience when he did the audio and Vook versions of Crush It. The essence was the same but the delivery was tailored to the medium and each offered a compelling reason for purchase. Smart authors will see this, need to produce multiple versions and may actually make money through content again.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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