“E-Book Apps: You’re Doing It Wrong”

Waldo Jaquith argues that e-books done as applications is “both a bad idea on many levels and largely unnecessary”, but I disagree vehemently with the claims and assessments made in the article:

What about in a couple of years, when Microsoft or Sony or Amazon releases a whizzy new e-book reader that you want to upgrade to after your iPad gives up the ghost? You can take your ePub files with you to that new reader . . . but your iPad-only, collectors-edition Infinite Jest application won’t run on your new device. You’ll have to buy those books again to read them.

The problem here, which Jaquith confuses entirely, is Digital Rights Management; not the publishing of e-books as applications. In fact, publishers have thus far indicated that they plan on using HTML as the format for the content of these new “e-book apps”, and HTML is arguably more transferable than even ePub.

Any book published on the AppStore, ePub format or application, will be wrapped in DRM that prevents it from being transferred to other platforms. For those people who already have an ePub book file that they plan to sync to their iPad and then read on it, sure, but those ePub books are already not applications. Additionally, it’s a rare occurrence that a publisher sells non-DRM’d .epub files straight to consumers.

As for the second part, the “largely unnecessary” claim:

From the perspective of consumers, it’s tough to envision how stand-alone e-book applications are better than simply reading an e-book in your e-book software.

If its tough to envision, perhaps Jaquith should refrain from dismissing the concept. I can easily envision many ways in which the book (or magazine) experience could be enhanced and improved by use of touchscreen-driven technology. In fact, I’ve been wanting the kinds of possibilities the iPad promises for the reading experience for many years now.

What we should be concerned about, however, is publishers needlessly adding audio and video content to books just to make them “richer”—almost all existing books will not become a better experience with video added in there somehow, because the books were not written and created with that kind of content in mind.

The user experience of a book, e-book or paper, has been largely the same for hundreds of years now. Suddenly, we’re presented with a great opportunity and great technology that allows us to do something new. Books that have been written already were created without the idea of audio and video and interactivity; it’ll demand an absolutely new breed of book, with a new type of content written specifically for this platform and its possibilities, to deliver a truly better experience for the user in this iPad-enriched world.

Until those new types of books start showing up, the idea has merit but the execution will likely be more a painful experiment than a truly enriched experience.

(via @siracusa)