14 Books on Phones

HarperCollins, a leading trade publisher and a member of Rupert Muroch’s News Corporation, announced today that it was making available online portions of 14 new books for download to the iPhone. The content will be made available on Harper’s mobile web site, and browsers can view up to 10 pages of a book’s first two chapters. The mobile site was produced by LibreDigital, a division of NewsStand, which provides the technical infrastructure for Harper’s digital repository services, including the “Browse Inside” application, on which the iPhone support is based.

Henry Blodget is a bit more cynical: “Desperate to hitch its publishing wagon to something, anything, that grows, New York publishing house (and News Corp) subsidiary HarperCollins will soon format digital books especially for the iPhone.”

Regardless of the opportunism (gee, isn’t rational opportunism what business should seek?), the pursuit of mobile audiences is a necessary direction for all publishers. New ebook standards from the International Digital Publishing Forum (N.B.: I am a board member) help make this kind of browsing application more straightforward and easier to accomplish.

In my mind what’s missing from HC’s model is full-fledged support for browsing. Large publishers still primarily view online applications as marketing channels, as opposed to sales or consumption opportunities. What am I supposed to do with an excerpt of a book? Oh, I’m supposed to go buy it from … HarperCollins? Google? Amazon? Anyone?

Almost everyone in the book business is scrambling to figure out how to provide easily monetized services on top of digital content that can be easily disaggregated and dispersed – OCLC, Google, Amazon, publishers, Bowker, Ingram, the Open Content Alliance, and many others. Both content, and critical descriptive metadata (such as cataloguing information, or LibraryThing’s tags) are ripe for new visions of exploitation and services definition. Ultimately, in the next 3-5 years, a much clearer picture will emerge for how readers and researchers will find, purchase, and consume book content.

The weeds are pretty thick yet.