By Joseph T. Sinclair
The author of The Mobile Wave, Michael Saylor, states that five billion people out of seven billion worldwide now have cell phones. Soon the one billion people who now have smart phones will be five billion people as cheap smart phones become more available.
Kenya has the most advanced payment system on the planet, the M-Pesa system. Over 40% of the country’s money is in the M-Pesa cell phone payment system. The Masai are using the M-Pesa system. With a spear in one hand and a cell phone in the other, the Masai herd cattle and farm—-and do their agricultural and personal transactions with M-Pesa. (The spear is for warding off lions.)
Americans use a payment system invented in the 1950s. The little plastic cards are 60 years old and facilitate $5.5 billion in fraud each year. Even Europeans have been using smart cards (a more secure credit card with a chip in it) for three decades, another ancient technology but one that’s better than plain plastic cards.
Smart phones are computers. By the end of the decade, smart phones will be the only computer that most of the five billion people own. About one billion of those people speak English, and a sizeable percentage of the English-speakers own smart phones already.
There are about 700,000 apps available through Apple. There are another 500,000 available through Android. And growing. Apps are digital applications—computer programs. Apps tend to be single-application programs. They are inexpensive. Desktop and laptop applications tend to be multiple application programs. They are many times more expensive than apps for smart phones.
Tablets (part of the mobile wave) sold more than half as many units as PCs for the first time in 2012. PC sales are in decline.
Microsoft has bet the farm on a new operating system (Win 8) that has a seamless interface between smartphones and PCs.
Over half of Amazon’s book sales are Kindle (ebook) versions. Amazon has a 30% market share of book sales in the US. Barnes & Noble has announced that it will close down hundreds of stores in the next few years. Borders is already bankrupt and gone. Sales of ebooks are booming.
Watching the elections in 2012, one saw dozens of people in the crowds shooting photos of the candidates with their smart phones. Not one point-&-shoot camera to be seen. In airports, everyone has a smart phone in their hand watching movies and TV, surfing the Web, texting, listening to music, or reading. Some people even use them for talking. A recent poll indicates that more people prefer to read on their phone than their tablet.
What does all this mean for publishing? First, reading is migrating to digital formats at an accelerating rate. Second, the smart phone (tablets included) is the ultimate device. Publishing on paper, already obsolete, will be an antique mode of mass communication by the end of the decade.
If digital publishing, what digital publishing? The answer is the ebook. Or is it? The ebook is a hybrid. It’s the weird mutation of the codex (book with pages) and digits. It was born when CPUs and devices were expensive, and ebook readers used feeble CPUs and were cheaper. It emulates paper pages. It has deficient multimedia capabilities. It was designed for digital readers that are now obsolete and were never very capable digital devices.
How do you get an ebook? You must have an account at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, etc. Out of the one billion English-speaking people who have smart phones (or will have them soon), a relatively small percentage have such an account. You have to read an ebook in an ebook app. The app is not the ebook.
What about a book app? That is, what about a book in an app format, not in an ebook format?
First, a book app is not limited to a convoluted, mutated, paper/digital format designed for underpowered digital devices. You can do almost anything you want with a book app that you can do with normal programming. Second, a book app is convenient. It’s just an icon and a tap away. It’s not several taps away. Third, it doesn’t require an account at a bookseller. You get apps via iTunes, Google Play, or the Windows Store where you get all your other apps. It’s immediately available to most smart phone users, not just a percentage of them.
Amazon, king of the ebooks, is already firmly in the app business. The Kindle Fire tablet outsells the iPad (and Samsung Android tablets), making Amazon the leading tablet maker. The Fire uses a slightly modified version of Android, and you can place your Android apps in the Amazon Appstore with a minor modification.
The book app market is huge already. Soon it will have a billion English-speaking people.
A book app doesn’t have to be in a page format. A page format is OK for text-only but very awkward for multimedia. A book app can be in a scroll format, a hypertext format, or a format that facilitates smooth media transitions. Or in all three, and also in formats yet to be invented. When such inventive new formats materialize, they do not have to become part of a rigid standard, such as ebooks.
The drawback is that apps are the realm of the programmer, not the content creator. Certainly that’s one reason why we’ve not seen much book app publishing.
But things evolve. Today we have quasi-competent app authoring software, most of it expensive. Tomorrow we will have super-competent app authoring software, most of it inexpensive. For instance, you can already get all of Adobe’s publishing software now (including the Digital Publishing Suite) for $49/month (Creative Cloud). The Creative Cloud includes about $7,500 worth of Adobe software. With Adobe software non-programmers can now create book apps. Adobe has bet the farm on diverse media publishing.
Competent authoring software will accelerate the creation and acceptance of book apps. Book apps will foster the diverse-media future of books.
Thus, I contend that the future of book publishing is the book app, not the ebook.
Joseph T. Sinclair has had 20 books published in print by major national publishers. He has recently founded a publisher, Appworth Media, to publish digital books.
©2013 Joseph T. Sinclair All rights reserved.