William's home for discarded gems and concepts-in-progress.

Welcome to William Van Winkle's blog, home for everything from notes on his latest ebooks to leftovers from his articles in CPU, Tom's Hardware, Smart Computing, and other media outlets. Check out his author pages at Amazon and Smashwords!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The "Going To The Great Beyond" Book

I showed my wife the Color NOOK e-reader. It had arrived from Barnes & Noble pre-loaded with about 30 titles for the article I'm doing on ebook borrowing and lending for Smart Computing magazine. One of these titles was Sandra Boynton's "The Going to Bed Book," which we've read to our boys perhaps 100 times over the years. There were two six-year-olds in the house at this moment. Neither had shown much interest in board books for at least two or three years. But the moment that NOOK book started talking...and making sound effects...and moving...why, those boys crowded around the device like ants on a sugar cube.

The Boynton book is actually an app that runs on the Color NOOK, not a regular ebook in the device's library. When you start the app, a photograph of a bed-type scene fills the screen. On the sheet and pillow, there's a pink stuffed pig; tap it and it squeaks. At the top, there's a doodle pad; tap it and you can color on the screen with any of five virtual crayon colors (and eraser). In the middle is a page offering two options: "The big guy reads it." or "I want to read it myself." And on the right, of course, is "The Going to Bed Book." The first page of the book shows a bunch of animals on the deck of a small white ship.

As I said, I've seen that page 100 times. This was the first time I'd ever tilted the book and watched the ship pitch to the left and most of the animals slide down the deck's slope. On subsequent screens, you can turn on a water spigot to make bubbles that fly out of the bathtub. You can take a towel off a hook and throw it onto the adjacent page. You can turn on the hot water, "steam up" the NOOK's screen, and then wipe patterns into the condensation with your fingertip.

The children were riveted, laughing their heads off.

"That's it," I said to my wife. "That's the end of children's books as we've known them. Why would you buy paper when you can buy this?"

Maybe I'm really late to the game, but this was the first time I'd witnessed such a book app in the flesh. I looked up the app publisher, Loudcrow.com, and discovered that the app is already available for iPad and iPhone at $2.99 and $1.99, respectively. Check out the book's video to see how it all looks in real life. I was absolutely blown away. Why would I pay $5.99 for the board book version when I can get this for half the price? This book teaches my kid to read! You touch the word and the big guy speaks it aloud! For less than three bucks? Sold, sold, and sold.

As an independent book author and publisher myself, my next thought filled me with both wonder and dread: If this is how children's books are going to evolve, what about adult books? After all, this stuff takes money. I'm no Flash animator. This entails programming and development crews. I have enough of a challenge just trying to put together a respectable book cover in Photoshop. But this? Like right now, I'm doing a short story mixing zombies into the U.S. Civil War. If the public comes to expect interactive media with its books, how could I possibly hope to craft something even half as intricate as this Boynton project revolving around concepts such as zombies and the Civil War and still hit a price point of $2.99 or less?

Does this mean that good interactive novels will command a $9.99 price point while only half-hearted interactive attempts will hit $4.99 or less and old fashioned "static" ebooks will be capped at $1.99? (And did you think you'd see the terms "old fashioned" and "ebook" used together this soon?)

In one blog post, Joe Konrath mentions that "most publishing contracts drawn up before 2010 give interactive multimedia rights to the author." The books he's placed with conventional publishers up to present have left the publisher owning the rights to the ebook versions of his novels along with the 52.5% of the royalties on those ebooks. However, those contracts don't cover interactive multimedia versions of those books. Authors could create these app-type versions, undercut the publisher's static versions on price, and make far more profit because they retain 60% to 80% of the sale price.

I don't know how to write apps. I don't know how to write stories and books destined to become apps. I do know that, at first glance anyway, I find this NOOK Color experience far more engaging and interesting than books on my wife's Kindle. It seems clear to me that in-book interactivity will become a selling point for many if not most books in the future, but how authors will adapt to this and what it will do to the cost structure of our reading experience remains to be seen.

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