Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Books, Apps and Libraries

I recently saw a twitter from Tim O'Reilly to the effect that 'books as apps' dont scale. That struck me as quite sage -- Tim does a good line in sage twitters. But his proposal for creating a 'channel' on Stanza doesnt sound quite right (a channel for what? Editions, Versions, Texts?), and what about this suggestion that Apple might get into the business of selling eBooks? Apple have done pretty well with selling music through the iTunes store. They might be getting worried about Google having a free run at books with the Android an Apple eBook device or an iTexts for the Apple devices makes some kind of sense.

Still, I will be surprised if Apple create a dedicated eBook device, but they will carry on creating highly desirable hardware platforms that will work very well with eBooks, digital editions and other web services. But making an iTunes for books is not going to be an easy proposition. Books and Tunes are different, and the iTunes library functions will not work naturally and straightforwardly if applied to books. Managing the library function properly is where the requirement for scalability gets to be really tough, and all these file-download systems will find it harder than Google or other web-based solutions, such as our own Exact Editions.

This could get quite complicated. There is already a plethora of dedicated eBook reading devices: Amazon Kindle, Sony, Iliad Rex and others. There is an App store for the iPhone, there is a marketplace for the newly arriving Android phones (Google phones), the new Palm Pre is getting fantastic reviews which will herald another App store. Nokia will probably have another. A profusion of channels and App stores and marketplaces, each with somewhat different expectations and technical requirements.

Main conclusion: try not to make multiple versions of books, try to make digital books or magazines that run on any platform that supports a web browser. All our books and magazines run on the iPhone and so any subscriber can access their subscription on the iPhone, and on an Android phone.

Secondary conclusion: maybe certain kinds of books do merit becoming an actual dedicated App on the iPhone. Sure, this doesnt scale for all books. But there are certain kinds of books, directories, travel guides, how to books, for which a dedicated App might make sense. Thinking about O'Reilly, what about their current best-seller: iPhone: The Missing Manual? That would be an App which many iPhone users would love to have.


Eric Rumsey said...

Seems like Google would do more to take advantage of the Android + Google Books combination -- I don't have access to an Android -- How well does Google Books work through the browser on Android?

Stephen Pitchers said...

I thought Google Books (and Exact Editions) use PDFs, capturing the text in its original print format? Surely no matter how this is presented, in or out of an application, it isn't ideal for any PDA. The platform definitely needs to be accessible to all users and centralising the storage to one place makes a lot of sense, but first what is needed is a standardisation of eBook formats.

Adam Hodgkin said...

Stephen -- neither Google Books nor Exact Editions really use PDFs (except in the preparation of the database). The primary page-view is a simple JPEG of the page as printed, not a PDF. Of course a lot of work is being done in the background by the database, which "knows" the book inside out. Stay tuned for more news on what iPhone Apps can do.