Coming to Your Smartphone: Books That Are Unprintable

printing press

I grew up reading. Comic books, paperbacks, hardcovers (each of the original Hardy Boys series was in hardcover, way back when)…I devoured them all. If you get a great author with a terrific story you really don’t need anything else. I occasionally, however, like something different if it’s nicely done. I’m not sure if anyone remembers the Griffin & Sabine trilogy by Nick Bantock with all of its removable notes and letters and envelopes and the like, but I surely enjoyed that. I also liked a couple of the “choose your ending” books that were published several years ago and still are, even though they are aimed at a somewhat different age group. Then came ebooks, which are great. Nothing, however, seems to beat a traditional book. That isn’t going to stop folks from making modifications, however.

The next big leap appears to already be here, and combines phone applications with original literary works specifically written for the medium, utilizing video, Google Street View, photographs, music and the like. The result is a book which cannot be printed but which can be accessed by an e-reader, smartphone, or laptop.

One of the players in this medium is a company named Editions at Play. The books in question are specifically designed to be read on a tablet or phone, and contain features integral to the story that mitigate against their being printed. They are phone and tablet applications, designed to be used on…well, phones and tablets. Newer phones and tablets, that is. If you have a new smartphone you won’t have a problem, but if you’re still hanging on the that five year old Android you might be limited to your laptop screen in reading these. That aside, you can find samples of two appbooks from Editions at Play — The  Truth About Cats & Dogs by Sam Riviere and Joe Dunthorne, and Entrances & Exits by Reif Larsen — at the link above, and from the looks of things, more are on the way. Editions at Play isn’t the only company investing in this. There are a number of others, including what appears to be an author-collaborative effort from Penguin Random House that will be published (is that still the right word?) later this year.

I of course could not resist. I went to the website link above and looked at the books presently for sale, sampled them, and laid down three bucks and change for each of them. I haven’t gotten to The Truth About Cats & Dogs yet but I did play wi…er, read, Entrances & Exits, which is a bit of a romantic tale, wherein it appears that a man’s wife has run off with their neighbor. The cuckold takes to wandering, going out of his comfort zone a bit further and further with each excursion. The book uses Google Street View quite heavily (the project is heavily tied in with google) and while neither the subject matter nor the writing is especially weighty, the overall experience is entertaining. Call it a couple of steps up from an illustrated novel/short story.

Will the appbook replace the printed book? No. No. And no again. Even the publisher acknowledges that. There is certainly a place for them, however, particularly, I believe, in the tween and young adult market, which has already begun to pick up the concept and run with it. One could incorporate videos, music, alternate endings, open endings, write your own ending, online contests…where would it end? That would be up to the creator(s). And you might be able to do it yourself. My nine year-old granddaughter tells me that hey, it’s really not all that difficult to write programming code.

What do you think of this? As a reader or as an author or both? Does this interest you, or does it look like a gimmick? Not that there’s anything wrong with a gimmick.