The murky and untested waters of e-book publishing can be hard to navigate, and many a company has been seen flailing its arms in an attempt to keep its head above water. Perhaps they should take a lesson from Penguin Books — a company that seems to have no fear of diving into the deep to try something new.
At the Financial Times Digital Media and Broadcasting Conference in London on Tuesday, Penguin Books’ CEO John Makinson showed off a concept video of titles ported for the iPad. The books, which ranged from popular children’s literature to medical textbooks, are brilliantly interactive–one of the astronomy texts, for example, uses the iPad’s compass to accurately show constellation names when pointing it at the night sky.
Makinson spoke of the iPad as a way to redefine the way publishers see e-books, stating that “the definition of a book itself, as we can see, is up for grabs.” At the conference, he went on to talk about the ePub format that Apple chose to use for its e-books: “[it’s] designed to support traditional narrative text, but not this cool stuff we’re now talking about… we will be embedding audio, video, and streaming into everything we do.”
As such, he said, most Penguin titles will initially be available as individual applications, rather than within Apple’s iBookstore. Like Condé Nast, Penguin is also using the app format to test pricing and feature availability for each of its titles. “We don’t understand, at the moment, what the consumer is prepared to pay for,” said Makinson. “We will only find the answers to these questions by trial and error.
Interestingly enough, Makinson told PaidContent in a Q&A that Apple’s 70-30 App Store split is actually more profitable for Penguin than the traditional print agency model; there, publishers give retailers 50 per cent. “The iPad represents the first real opportunity to create a paid distribution model that will be attractive to consumers.”
Pearson, the publishing powerhouse that owns both Penguin Books and The Financial Times, has also thrown its weight behind the iPad and the App Store. The U.K.’s Daily Mail reports that the company is planning several learning and leisure apps for the iPad to “build on Pearson’s push into digital and online education.” The publisher has already invested £2 billion (about $3 billion) over the past five years into programs in digital learning.
It’s hard not to be excited after watching Makinson’s presentation. Seeing publishers so willing to innovate, it can only bring good things for consumers–and I bet there are quite a few high school students who wouldn’t mind losing about forty pounds of books from their backpacks in exchange for some interactive e-books on an iPad.