Sunday, April 25, 2010

iPad as the Kindle (and print books)-killer

Sarita, the reader par excellence, was introduced, firsthand, to the iPad two weeks ago today. Two weeks ago tomorrow, she asked me to get her an iPad from the local Apple store. "I need to keep up with where the market is going," she said. "Robert [a Sonlight curriculum developer] told us about a book he owned in print . . . and that is available also as an app on the iPad. No contest, the iPad version wins over the print version. Robert said the print version might have held his son's attention for 10 minutes, tops. But as an app, he was mesmerized for hours."

Well, when I went to the Apple store, they were all out of iPads. Completely. Not a single one available at any price in any configuration. So I ordered one (a basic model; $499). On Saturday, the 17th, I picked it up.

Sarita had fallen in love with it by Sunday. And I will confess, I, too, have a certain interest, though I have told Sarita I want to wait for the HP Slate. (See also this for more on the Slate.)

One of the things Sarita is concerned about--and I am, too--is how a company like Sonlight is to keep up with what we perceive as a societal move toward electronic books. How should Sonlight Curriculum be reconfigured to meet the needs of the coming technological shift?

Well, last week, just before Gracie Lou took the turn for the worse, I was doing some reading online and was struck by a few sobering articles.

This one, in particular, grabbed my attention: "The fanboys were right. The iPad is a Kindle killer, but for all the wrong reasons."


The author says it is not because of the iPad screen. As far as that's concerned, the iPad is lousy; "your eyes get tired after a few pages. You find yourself wishing you could print out the rest of the book and read it properly, away from the screen."

The problem with the iPad as a Kindle-killer, and, indeed, as a print book killer, has to do with the fact that
the way that Apple displays books . . . suggests that they consider books to be just another kind of app. Something to fire up, play with for a couple of minutes and then swap out for the next five minutes of Flight Control. . . .
Even for those who love books enough to persevere with reading without e-ink will soon face another problem with the awesomeness of the iPad. The device does so many different things so well that there’s a constant urge when you’re using one to do something else. Two or three pages into a book, you’re already wondering whether you’ve got new mail, or whether anyone has atted you on Twitter.

One of the joys of reading is to be able to shut yourself away from distractions and lose yourself in a book. When the book itself is packed with distractions, the whole experience is compromised.
That explains why it will kill book reading. But/and why will it kill the Kindle? Because,
If you have to carry around one device – for your commute to work, for an hour in a coffee shop, or on a long-haul flight – then the iPad is the one to carry. . . .

For a few months, the Kindle – or the Sony Reader, or whatever e-reader floated your (Three Men In A) boat – was the perfect take-anywhere device. Sales of ebooks soared as first early adopters, then everyone else, left their paper books at home and started carrying around something smaller and lighter that still gave them access to their reading material.

Those same people are now the ones who will buy iPads, or presumably any one of the myriad alternatives that will soon be flooding the market. But those people don’t want to carry around two tablet-shaped devices to help pass their commute, so they’ll make the sensible choice and leave their Kindles at home. Sure, the Kindle is unarguably the better reader device, but what many booklovers (myself included) have arrogantly overlooked is that it’s not competing on a level playing field with other e-readers. It’s competing against the whole universe of portable entertainment. “This ebook hurts my eyes – I’ll just surf the web instead.”
Y'know what scares me? I think he is correct!

While you're mulling this issue, consider Cody Brown's response. He says, Dear Authors, Your Next Book Should be an App, Not an iBook.

And for books like Gray's Elements, I think he is correct. What a brilliant idea. But for other works where the thought. the ideas, the concepts are essential, and physical realities are less so? I agree with Ned Resnikoff: Dear Authors, Your Next Book Should Be a Book:
Imagine if someone wrote, “Dear Filmmakers, Your Next Movie Should be a Video Game.” Or, “Dear Playwrights, Your Next Play Should Be a Movie.” Cody’s right to point out that we’re going to see some really interesting innovations in how to read from the iPad and similar devices, but I don’t see how those innovations can displace books entirely. What about the tactile sensation of reading? The physical artifact of a book? The way you can chart your progress through it by the movement of the bookmark?
But there is something more fundamental at work, here, I am afraid. It has to do with the potential difficulty of getting published. As Tariq Kamal comments on Cody Brown's post:
Here’s the thing, though: books — media in the written word, really — are really easy to make. What you’re asking for is a multimedia production, and you know what? Those are hard to make by single authors.

Not impossible, true! But harder to make. And that barrier to entry might mean the difference between millions of diverse, raw voices or merely dozens of slick, pre-productioned and marketed consumerist pap for the proles.

And yes, you’re right! That’s exactly what’s happening right now with publishing! And you know what? That’s the exact same future the iPad is selling to me, right now. No change to the status quo, except making it harder for individual voices to get their stories heard.
And that brings us back, potentially, to a glimmer of hope, according to EvilDave:
The truth is . . . while all of these “books as apps” things sound great, most of them will be poorly done and a hindrance to finding information.

Writing a decent book is hard. Writing a decent book while writing a software app to put that book in is triply hard. . . .

[Therefore, n]ormal text-based books aren’t dead and probably won’t be in our lifetimes.
To be honest, I'm not sure where this discussion leaves us as we contemplate what ought to be done for curriculum. As many people have observed, the advent of new technologies like these rarely destroys the old.

Certainly, the printing press put scriptoriums out of business. But radio didn't replace newspapers or books. And TV didn't replace books, newspapers or radio.

The internet, however, is gravely endangering the newspaper industry. . . .

Well. One last comment. While we're on the subject of print v. electronic media, I thought this article (from September 2009), too, had a lot of good to say. I especially appreciated the author's conclusion:
True, a long-overdue culling process is certainly taking place in publishing. But critics should be careful about using too broad of a brush when painting a grave for print. Last Wednesday, TNS Media Intelligence released its U.S. Advertising and Expenditures Report. Granted, some of the numbers were bleak. Yet several of this country’s largest advertisers, including Wal-Mart, Campbell Soup, Time Warner, and Clorox, all increased their print advertising dollars from 2008 to 2009. And these are certainly companies with the resources to do their homework on ROI.

In the winter issue of Angling Trade magazine, Kirk Deeter ran a letter from Joe Healy, of Fly Rod and Reel, that was a response to an article that I had written in the previous issue, on why I think companies in the flyfishing industry should support independent filmmakers. Joe’s letter was basically telling advertisers that I was pretty off base, and that they should stick to putting their money in print (which I thought was pretty funny, since I publish a magazine for a living. But whatever.) At any rate, Joe made some good points, and ended his letter with this sentence: “When flyfishing industry folks want to target truly large numbers of new fly fishers and impassioned long-time anglers with their marketing messages, magazines remain the top choice.”

I would agree wholeheartedly with Joe, except that he forgot one word: good. As in, good magazines remain the top choice. What makes a good magazine? Who knows? Ultimately, the market will determine that. But I can give one surprising example that flies in the face of almost everything the print critics are saying: The Economist.

This is the news magazine category we’re talking about. Time and Newsweek these days look like leaflets that should be dropped from airplanes. But earlier this month, when the Audit Bureau of Circulation released its first half report, The Economist announced that its North American circulation had grown 8.5 percent from a year earlier, and that its global circ was now 1,418,013—more than twice what it was ten years ago. Even more impressive, the Economist Group reported that its profits, in large part due to an increase in advertising, grew 26 percent year-over-year, to nearly $100 million.
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