Please enjoy this sample article from our Insights service. If you are an Outsell client, log in now to access all Insights articles.
InsightsAnalysis of events, data, and trends
affecting the information industry.
A smart phone application demonstrates the true potential for some types of e-books. The task is not about making content digital, but about entirely rethinking the content's form.
Important Details: I recently ran across a software program called iBird Explorer that was featured in Apple's iPhone application store. Having a grandfather who was a published ornithologist, and being a bit of a backyard birder, it is unsurprising that the application caught my eye. So after browsing through some user generated reviews, I decided to buy the application - and not just the featured version priced at $4.95, but the deluxe version priced at $19.95. In the ensuing weeks, despite the continued prognosis of further global economic doom, I have felt every penny of that was well spent.
My personal reaction should be very welcome news to publishers because what I bought was less a software program and more a digital book. Further, I had recently bought a printed bird guide for about half the price and though it contained nearly identical content, I now feel that I overpaid for the print version, or (perhaps even more encouraging for publishers), underpaid for the digital one.
Implications: In Outsell's opinion, the creator of the iBird application has cracked the code for creating a truly successful e-book. So even if you are not keen on identifying birds, the program is worth a careful look to see what it brings to publishing in this form:
1) Ubiquity. While a printed book and the digital reader equivalents are portable, these items are not always on hand. Rather a conscious effort must be made to bring them along. This iBird 'book' however is designed for loading onto a smart phone - there's a Windows Mobile version as well - and this means that for most smart phone owners the book is with them wherever they go.
2) Useability. The iBird Explorer breaks apart the paradigm of what is known as a bird field guide. Its approach is best described as intelligent search meets unbounded content. Users are not forced into an all or nothing identification task of sifting through hundreds or thousands of images to match the bird he or she saw, but instead can select a few of the individual traits identified and do a cross category search to narrow the list. For example, noticing the bird has a cone shaped bill, a bit of rust color and knowing you are in Massachusetts allows you to narrow down the fieldguide's list from nearly 900 to just five birds. From that list of five, you can then explore each of them further and then diverge into 'Similar' birds for each on your shortened list.
3) Mashed Media. This application makes the most of its form by combining multimedia formats in a truly effective way. A tab with audio recordings is included on each bird 'page', not so the user can listen to some storied birder relate their first sighting of a Painted Bunting, but instead so the user can listen to an actual recording of that bird's voice and compare it to similar looking birds. Audio where audio makes sense. Further, while drawings are used to depict the bird in its most likely state, another tab contains photos taken in the field and users can even petition the developer to post their own photos. Finally, another tab is a link to the external Wikipedia page on that bird. By including this, the program ensures its content is as up-to-date as the latest entry on that site.
This brings us to the final feature of this program, and the one where we disagree with the approach taken. Future updates are sent along to every user for free. The concept here is great - a user can buy content that will never be out of date and without felling a single tree - but the implementation is where our disagreement arises. These updates make the original purchase more valuable, and as such the publisher should charge for this privilege in a premium purchase model that kicks in after a set period of time.
The model outlined above only makes sense for certain types of content. Fiction is probably best served up in a single media linear form. But content with a discovery or educational component - for example travel books or language guides - could be greatly enhanced with a similar approach. Publishers should look across their own content and start experimenting here.