Aug 15

Peter Brantley

Peter Brantley

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.

tags: publishing  | comments: 6   | Sphere It

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Comments: 6

  Scott Berkun [08.15.07 01:04 PM]

Somewhere in here are the human factors - 10 pages might be just about all that most people are willing to read on 3x5 screen. The article doesn't say, but I've yet to see a convincing study that most people with phones are all that interested in reading books on them. Most people I know can't read web pages and blogs for very long in that form factor - sure, that's anecdotal, but there is the possibility that portable electronic book reading might never make sense for non-technological reasons.

So on the one hand, I do agree - why just have teasers? If you let them have 10 pages, it can't be that hard to let those that aren't driven mad by reading on small screens have the whole thing.

But on the other (curmudgeonly) hand, the user experience of reading is different in small form factors, and the kinds of writing work there are different as well. According to one of the comments, these are basically photographs of the original manuscripts, not reformatted editions, and the quality of the experience for many books is bound (hah hah) to be poor.

  ArtSimon [08.15.07 02:01 PM]

Thanks for very interesting article. I really enjoyed reading all of your articles. It’s interesting to read ideas, and observations from someone else’s point of view… makes you think more. Keep up the good work. Greetings

  olddeadmeat [08.15.07 07:00 PM]

Goto - Baen publishing has been selling ebooks in a variety of formats with no DRM. Why don't you contact author Eric Flint about how giving away ebooks improved his net royalties? You can see some of his comments here:

Regards, ODM

  Ajeet Khurana [08.16.07 08:23 AM]

There are many constituencies involved in this. But it appears that the "technologists" are winning.

Providing mobile content is great in principle. But, to put books on the phone somehow seems irrational. Of course, here I am mean conventional books. If mobile content causes the definition of books to alter, then it might get more rational.

And one more thing, books on mobile phones have been around for a long time. Reading Gutenberg on my small screen phone was always an option I had.

  Ken Gilmer [08.16.07 09:54 AM]


You raise a good point regarding "the definition of books." I think there is a general confusion in this domain between what are known as "eReaders" (display written text optimized for reading on a specific device) and "Document Viewers" (reproducing a physical document as perfectly as possible on a device). From a publishing angle I can see how they'd be thinking more in terms of the latter, but really the hardware constraints prevent a good experience. (Ever try to read a PDF on the Sony e-reader?) The model needs to be seperated from the view. I think some degree of success will come when the focuse is on the content and not on the book form of that content.


  Bonnie [06.18.08 05:50 PM]

I've had a very positive experience with yet another angle of books on iPhones. Well actually, it wasn't me, it was my four-year-old daughter. Has anyone out there heard of MobiStories? These books are narrated with words and illustrations - I suspect as they appear in the book, though I don't have the actual book. The words are somewhat small for my eyes, but my daughter doesn't seem to have a problem. She would rather watch MobiStories on my iPhone then hold a regular book. Let's face it, as technology advances, the younger generation wholeheartedly embraces it while the older generation does their best to keep up, but at some point is left bewildered.

It seems to me that the focus should be on the content and not the device. As for adult books, I read the 10 pages, and while I would have been happier to read the whole book, I don't think I would make a practice of doing it. My eyes were pretty tired.

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