EBook Publisher Calls BS On Apple’s EBook Plans



Entrepreneur Peter Collingridge, founder of Enhanced Editions, an experimental ebook publisher that’s just put out Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro as an iPhone app, thinks it unlikely Apple is trying to “redefine publishing” as recent reports have suggested.

“Whilst I’d love it if Apple were looking at doing exactly this, I find it unlikely,” he says.

But Collingridge does think there’s huge opportunity in reinventing the ebooks as “digital books,” and that Apple’s tablet presents some interesting UI opportunities.

Founded in 2008 after the launch of the App Store, Enhanced Editions says the iPhone/Touch platform and the iTunes distribution channel is a unique and exciting opportunity. So the company created a networked iPhone app for publishing digital books enhanced with video and audio. “We set ourselves the mission of making the reading software that Apple themselves would make,” the company says.

Following is a QA with founder and book industry vet Peter Collingridge, who has interesting points about Apple, its tablet, the book industry and Apple’s vision of 21st culture.

CoM: Did you see Gizmodo’s story onWednesday about Apple talking to publishers about the upcoming tablet?

Collingridge: I saw the piece, yes, but IMHO it didn’t break any great news. There have been lots of rumours on my radar and yours about Apple talking to (book) publishers for a relatively long time, but very little evidence of a genuine and aggressive entry into books that I think is credible, sadly.

Perhaps they’ve been dipping their toes into the water of print. There have been equally many rumours suggesting that the contractual machinations of publishing deals make the music industry look simple to Apple. But – the examples cited in the Gizmodo piece are fairly dated – a lot has happened since February. Or perhaps nothing!

Personally, I’d be delighted if the rumours were true. Literature and reading is a vital part of our culture both historically and moving forwards, and I think deserves the focus on amazing user experience that Apple brings to any project it launches.

But, if you ask me, Apple has also missed a trick by stating (or misdirecting!) that “people don’t read” and that books won’t be a part of their vision and strategy for culture distribution in the 21st Century. Of course I think this – we’re building a business around doing it ourselves on their app store platform!

CoM: Do you think Enhanced Editions could be a model for the kind of “hybrid” print content Apple is interested in developing?

Collingridge: Our mantra with Enhanced Editions is to create the kind of reading experience that Apple *would* make if they were as interested as us in this cultural industry moving forwards. In practical terms this meant throwing everything we know about “ebooks” away and starting again, focusing on creating a unique and amazing user experience: the digital book rather than the ebook. By combining audiobook, text and video, all synched and integrated in a beautifully designed and networked app, we think we’ve begun that process with The Death of Bunny Munro.

However ours is a bespoke and creative offer; it depends on close and trusted ties with rights holders, and would be hard to replicate on a massive scale. It also depends on the creation of new material and indeed rights. So I think that whilst I’d love it if Apple were looking at doing exactly this, I find it unlikely.

Kindle has shown that there is demand for electronic reading and access to “subscription” content, even at a pretty basic user level, i.e. grey text on a grey background. That’s really encouraging as a starter. But I think and hope that it would take a company with Apple’s vision to see how to take this to the mass market and make something huge out of this opportunity. If Enhanced Editions could inform that vision in any way, I’d be delighted.

CoM: What else could you do with interactive books on a tablet?

Collingridge: Well, I think that’s only limited by imagination. And we’re really working our imaginations – combined with over 10 years commercial experience in the publishing and tech industries – to continue to develop awesome and compelling user experiences that realise these opportunities.

Someone whom I respect very much said to me recently – of the iPhone – that this is a device with “eyes, ears, a mouth, and which knows where it is and which way it is pointing.” When he said that I realised that it was those “characteristics” we were trying to bring into the book through Enhanced Editions – and I would be confident saying that if Apple is doing something around reading, they would feel the same way.

CoM: Is there anything else out there we should be looking at, tablet-media-wise?

Collingridge: As for what else is out there. For me any Tablet is going to be SDK enabled and also announced with enough time for developers to “port” to tablet before launch (Ed: the latest rumors suggest a January announcement and a May or June launch). For reading, my current thinking is that the screen size may actually be too large for comfortable single column reading. So there is a UI opportunity there that we find really exciting.

Looking back on some of the book projects we’ve worked on in the past:

I find it really exciting to consider as part of a post-web ecosystem when it comes thinking about a massive adoption of electronic and digital reading.