O Brave New eBook

iPad AppsBy John Ott and Eric Freese, Aptara

Welcome to class. Take your new tablet— your only textbook this semester— out of your backpack. It’s about the same size, but lighter and thinner than your old textbooks. It’s also battery-powered, similar to a big touch-screen, like your iPhone.

Use that touch-screen and download the first chapter of your first lesson. That’s right—your lesson is an app. Plug in your earbuds and tap the screen to begin the introductory video.

Cool, the presenter is that famous scientist from the cable show…

Now the video goes into full documentary mode; scenes from real life. Major ideas from the lesson appear as text at the bottom of the screen; so do vocabulary words. Now the presenter is back and he’s working out a big idea step-by-step on the whiteboard…

Video over. Time to read.

The text repeats and expands upon what you saw on the video. Tap an unfamiliar word and a popup gives you a definition; the voiceover gives you the proper pro-nun-ci-a-tion. Have some text you want to highlight? No magic marker needed—just tap and color the passage in one of six colors. Use the virtual keyboard to write yourself some study notes…

Learning Device of the Future

Click to enlarge

Tap Figure 1.1 in the text and it becomes a little animation—no step-ones and step-twos and little arrows like in your old textbooks. Graphs, charts, and diagrams each have their own animations – watch the bars grow; see how the pie chart is sliced; the voiceovers explain everything that happens. Here’s a still photo; tap on it and it becomes a slideshow—with narration for each picture. Other photos turn into additional short videos.

Well, did you learn anything? Tap the screen and bring up the exercises. Tap to answer the questions—and your textbook will tell you if you got the right answer or not. Have a real question? Use your textbook and email it to your teacher.

So, that was science. On to the next class—where you’ll use tablet for history. And for math. And health.

And you can use your tablet to record your teacher’s lecture in Spanish class.

And you’re really looking forward to English Lit, because you get to watch Shakespeare and read along at the same time.

Finish off the school day at band practice. Need the music? Got an app for that. Download it. While you’re waiting for the conductor, give a listen what the piece sounds like. Tune to a perfect “C” from your tablet; then tap up the sheet music, prop your tablet on the music stand, and toot that horn.

Now you’re on the bus going home; you’ve got homework. The Moby Dick app is on your tablet, but the writing is pretty dense and you think you’d rather watch the old 1956 John Huston-Ray Bradbury movie… or watch that Harvard professor lecturing about the book… or watch the documentary video on whaling… it’s all part of the app. Well, maybe later.

Your tablet is also a web browser…

Wow! James Cameron has another Avatar sequel coming out… there’s an eBook app already available. Navigate to the store and download it. Cool— it’s got clips and outtakes from the movie and tons of concept art, and video interviews with the stars and supplemental fiction and special animations… and links to sites where you can buy every authorized piece of Avatar merchandise…

This all sounds great, right? So when—? In about ten weeks. Plus the time it takes publishers to learn their way around Apple’s new, revolutionary iPad and start putting product on the market.

Apple’s iPad is likely to be the first tablet device to capture the public’s imagination and the mass market, opening the floodgates for similar devices and sparking a gold rush among eBook publishers. Its ability to incorporate color, video, interactivity, and sound into the eBook experience, along with its user-friendly touch-screen interface, means that publishers will now have to move beyond the model of simply reproducing printed pages on an electronic screen. The distinction between eBooks and apps will disappear.

Soon, there will be only two kinds of eBooks: those with video, motion graphics, and sound, and those without.

The Aspen Post put it very well:

“At the end of the day, at the end of this decade, the iPad will be seen as the first device that collected all the media together in one truly portable place… the tablet is literally a tabula rasa for the commingling of audio, video, text, and graphics—of movies, books, pamphlets, plays, diaries, novels, novellas, non-fiction, newsreels… and the list never ends…. In two or three more generations the iPad will become a true multimedia monster that changes the means of production forever.”

Touch-screen interaction is part of the whole spectrum of features (color, sound, video, motion graphics, interactivity) that make the iPad a breakthrough eBook device — not just an electronic substitute for paper. The thing publishers have to focus on now is not how to adapt legacy works to electronic formats, but how to completely reinvent their educational and mass-market products to take advantage of what the iPad, and subsequent devices, can do.

Traditional books don’t have moving parts or make sounds, and now suddenly publishers have to become experts on eBooks that do— video, audio, animation, motion graphics, and interactivity. They have to become— among other things— multimedia producers. Expect to see publishers pairing off with expert partners in multimedia fields real soon.

O brave new world for publishers…

But don’t worry. There will probably be an app for that, too.

John Ott is Senior Multimedia Designer at Aptara; Eric Freese is Digital Solutions Architect, Aptara. Aptara provides digital publishing solutions that deliver significant gains in quality, time-to-market and production costs for eBook publishers.

17 thoughts on “O Brave New eBook

  1. Stephen Tiano

    So what’s going to be the eBook format for Apple’s iPad? Are they going to promote something other than ePub/Kindle (Mobi)? How about PDFs, since they can link easily enough to multimedia? As a book designers/production artist looking to transition to eBooks on the iPad, I’m very interested in the answer.

  2. fishcado

    Looks great doesn’t it? Pubs are already struggling with their budgets. The amount of production cost that would have to go for something like this idealized model I can’t fanthom. Do you thinks students will each pay what the pubs want for such content? Think again.

  3. irv

    This is funny. I remember hearing exactly these same promises about interactive multimedia lessons, as the big driver for the Internet as a whole around, oh, 1985 or so. And every year since, too.

    What makes you think ebooks will catch up to the technological promise any faster than the Internet as a whole has? The fact is that making textbooks or anything else with the full range of integrated multimedia capabilities described at the beginning of this article takes skill (including some skills that no one on Earth currently possesses), time, trial and error, and above all money.

    It WILL happen. But it’s going to take quite a few years yet. I expect the majority of current publishers will fail to make the transition in part because they will think it enough to cater to people like me, who will buy ebooks even if all they do is show standard print pages on an electronic screen. You see, I’m out of space on my bookshelves.

    1. Joseph Wofford


      “What makes you think ebooks will catch up to the technological promise any faster than the Internet as a whole has? The fact is that making textbooks or anything else with the full range of integrated multimedia capabilities described at the beginning of this article takes skill (including some skills that no one on Earth currently possesses), time, trial and error, and above all money.”

      I wouldn’t be so pessimistic… There are still quite a few people with Macromedia Director skills that could easily be leveraged to bring interactivity to ebooks. This is not as far-fetched as it first appears. The reason you haven’t seen much of this type of work on the web is a different problem than being able to bring interactive content to the iPad (or as we’ve started calling the category: the IPED – Internet-enabled Personal Entertainment Device.)

  4. Matthew

    I can’t believe this article didn’t mention our Vooks. At Vook, we create mixed media titles that combine reading, watching, links to the Internet and social media — exactly what’s discussed here. Our great titles are on the market and have won us overwhellmingly positive reader response. Please go and try one of our titles to see how we’re realizing a vision that sounds as if it’s still theoretical here.

    It’s not soon. The future is here NOW at Vook.

    Check it out:


  5. Tim Barrus

    This is all well and good. But once again it leaves people OUT of the equation because that is what publishing does. Often, that is all it does. If it has a legacy, it is this: inclusion is something you fight like a reservoir dog for.

    Every mainstream publisher is developing a digital unit. They want to sell VOOKS — but they don’t want to see one. There isn’t a publisher in the business who will even remotely consider work where the person who created the narrative also created the video content.

    I make vooks. They are slamming their doors in the face of the wrong guy.

    I will bet the ranch that in one year, the players and the rules and the rituals so endemic to the book world are all going to be replaced.

    The publishers want to control video content because they see it as, not something to augment the narrative with, but as a COMMERCIAL.

    Imagine that.

    So they’re going to pat the little ladywriter on the head, and say: you don’t have to worry your pretty little self about the video because we will do that.

    I am no lady.

    And they are NOT going to stick commercials into the context of my work. Over my dead body. I make my OWN video and it will take you more intimately into the story itself than the paradigm where I am sitting in some tired old bookstore signing book after book at some card table alongside a publicist bored out of her skull.

    I have tried to get Digital Book World to cover this issue — what about the writer who can make his own video content — but they’re not too interested in writers.

    Comments are just fine. Let there be a buzz.

    At the moment, writers who can construct their own video content that corresponds to their written narrative SCARE the panyhose off the publishers. Once again, it’s a closed shop because that is all they know how to do.

    This is a game they will not win.

    My readers are in the thousands and they are on Facebook and they want interactive and they want me not a generic version of Simon and Schuster and they are very hip, very tuned into technology; they’re hungry for stories, and I have to tell you how shocked I was to see that 90% of them are from Asia because I never focused on Asia for a moment in any of my work. But the issues I write about and the issues I make video about — HIV/AIDS, identity, the dynamics of unequal relationships, new media — are exactly the subjects they want to explore.

    I am wasting my time with American publishers who do not get it and never will. What they know how to do is build a wall. I wish them luck in new media. They are dressing up old media to look like new media but it will not work because the new reader is on to them.

    I am going to enjoy watching them disappear down the deep black hole they are digging for themselves. The gatekeepers can build walls all they want.

    There is nothing on the other side of your wall we want to be a part of.

    Tim Barrus
    Cinematheque Films

    1. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

      @Tim: You couldn’t be more wrong about DBW not being interested in writers; without them, there is no publishing industry. I responded to your email query with interest and noted that I was swamped so it would take some time to get back to you. Suggesting otherwise here probably isn’t the most effective method of following up. –Guy

      1. Jeanne Webster

        Guy, I have to agree with Tim and chuckle at your response. In the same moment you offer how interested the DGW is in authors, in the next sentence is you’re too swamped you are to get back to one. My slant on this is slightly different, although I am excited to see how digital will change the experience of reading and publishing.

        The traditional publishing world has always enjoyed a strict structure over when, who and how books are delievered to their audience. The gatekeepers have always been agents. For any author that pays attention, both eagerly admit that the author has always been considered and treated like the lowest form of life on the publishing food chain….this I don’t get, as it’s the authors work that pays their salaries.

        Self publishing brought about a way for authors to touch their readers and engage them without running the old gaunlet. It was hard won turf for those that self published or formed their own publishing houses…but it worked (if your ego wasn’t seated in having a big house name on your book) Yes, you had to set up your own distribution and do your own marketing, but if you’re published by a big house and your name isnt Brown or Patterson, you still have to do all the marketing work anyway. Hidden in the idea of “Platform” (and what author doesn’t have a platform) they want you to build your own following with minimal help from them. So…if I’m doing all the work…how come they get the biggest share of the pie?

        Now here comes digital, and it excites the heck out me…the lil’ ole’ author, who sees a great opportunity for an author to reach her readers in a provocative and forward thinking way. I see the big houses scrambling to get a hold on this new technology because they can’t stop it. Agents are wondering what their role will be and, for pete’s sake, what the “new” contracts will look like. To me, it smacks of “let’s see how we can keep our authors in line and on the hook when they figure out they don’t need us.

        But my fear is that somehow digital and publishing will form another structure that, once again, leaves the author out, one that forces commercials in our books or denies us access unless we fall in the new cattle line. Right now the online book stores offer the independent author a fair deal, they don’t care if your small or have an agent, they just offer the opportunity for us to get in the mix. When the dust settles I hope we see the READER companies offering the same. Right now I see a huge push to court the big houses with…an Oh, by the way, independents are welcome too….for now.

  6. Theresa M. Moore

    I noticed that most of the article was about iPad and its features, which smacks more of propoganda about one particular device. I’m sorry, but not everyone has an iPad, and even if they did they would not be reading books. Many of us authors don’t want interactive anything attached to our content, and most readers hate the advertising that they see on sites already. I produce my own ebooks, which consists of nothing more than my work. And I do better selling them than I do the print books to begin with. When digital publishing recognizes the needs of the readers and not the advertisers, it will be a great world to enter indeed. Until then, good luck selling something people don’t want. No matter how much you trick it up it will still be a dog and pony show.

    1. Stephen Tiano

      Theresa, I’m confused by your comment. First you say you’re an author. And then you sound like you’r speaking up for readers (which is commendable, and you should). But you go on to mix in advertisers and then take a shot at the multimedia capabilities of the iPad.

      Now I have not seen an actual iPad in person, but as a book designer I am particularly excited about its multimedia possibilities, at least from the point of view of making textbooks more useful to students. I think you kind of threw the baby out with the bathwater when you write about “selling something people don’t want.” I can assure you there are people who want such a device and such eBooks.

  7. ted

    Guy, don’t you know who “Tim Barrus” is? That’s one of the Navajo writer Nasdijj’s virtual pseudonyms. To diss him is to diss all of Native culture.

  8. gabriela

    I’m sorry to contradict you, but in Brazil we’re already doing just that… plus adapting the whole thing to our tech infrastructure, of course!

  9. Tim Barrus

    The scary part is that the more I’m around “new media,” the more it begins to look like the same players with the same rules and the same rituals and the same tired old bar fights and you put the thing in a new dress and give her some crystal meth, she sparkles, but it’s still publishing. Who CARES what pseudonym I use or don’t use. How is that relevant to anything. There are so many real issues going on all at the same time — especially in media — that it’s amazing people hold so tightly to the old perceived grievances, the same old publishing paradigms, the same old misconceptions, the same old hatreds, and the same old assumptions that used to drive old media and still do. No one is dissing anyone. Nor am I attempting to sell anything to anyone. That is not why I am here. I am here because I thought this was a viable dialogue utilizing a diversity of voices focusing on what digital media will become. If it’s not, then I won’t bother you again. I am simply making the point that this is a pivotal time in media for anyone who wants to do anything actually new. Versus the hue and cry for the status quo. What I see is that the wagons on the wagon train are being slowly pulled into a protective circle. Corporate players are figuring how to protect their interests and how to maintain the cultural gates and their jobs as gatekeepers. There is nothing new or “new media” about much of it. What’s interesting is the extent to which we can’t get rid of the obstacles that made “old media” the nightmare it evolved into. Because we bring the same tired old baggage that we lug around. There’s no escaping it. In a pivotal moment, there have been opportunities to make fundamental changes but we haven’t grabbed them, we haven’t made them, and we aren’t going to. New media will be old media real soon. The same players are still putting their new suits on. Same players. Same barriers. Same pettiness. Who would want to be a part of this thing where change is the dress, the drugs, the bells and whistles on an Ipad. It’s superficial. Agents will continue to represent the interests of publishers and publishers will just buy it if they can’t shut it up. The pad won’t matter. Because the I CONTENT of the animal is constructed just like it always was. Turf matters. What doesn’t matter much anymore is who gets your work; generically they’re all the same. The suits all sit in the same office. The opportunity to do anything unique has come and gone. “New media” can sit up and sparkle now but she’s the same old witch. What happened. How did we let it go. It was right there and then we let it go. And we end up with what we had before. The only way it’s going to let you do anything unique is if you walk away and leave the dog and pony show for the wolves. There are always wolves. I see no hope for it unless you take your work so far outside of the system that no one has a reference point to understand what it is so they can access the tools they need to put you down, denigrate you, or just treat you with the contempt of enormous indifference.

  10. Pingback: App.Edu – Classroom Apps for Everything But Shooting Rubber Bands | Publishing In the 21st Century

  11. Pingback: La Scuola? Ha un futuro alle spalle | Giorgio Jannis


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *