Thursday, January 20, 2011

Who decides what an App or eBook should be?

Our world of ebooks is so new, there are no clear definitions of what children's book apps and ebooks should look like or include, and that's causing some room for debate.
     For instance, Kirkus recently started reviewing children's book apps. And while it's wonderful they are including them on their site, some of their comments are raising questions.
     A prime example is the recent review for my picture book App, Lula's Brew (available for the iPhone and iPad). The review itself was... okay, but one of the negatives mentioned was a lack of interactivity. (Several apps received similar criticism.) And it's true. Other than page turns and the ability to have the story read aloud, Lula's Brew is a pretty straight forward picture book - one of the very first children's book apps ever available, I might add.
     Picture book creators tend to love this - a straight forward book in digital form. After all, it's what we've been creating all along! And it's especially promising when you consider iBook 1.2's new ability to present picture books in ePub format. No bells and whistles there - just a simple presentation of a picture book. You flip the pages and can zoom in to see the text. There are currently no read-aloud features, no buttons to push to activate games or animations - it's just a book on a digital reader (an actual eBook).
     So who says apps and/or eBooks must have buttons to push and animations to trigger simply because they can? Who gets to decide if that is how an app is supposed to work? And why should an app be criticized if it doesn't work that way?
     Before the reviewers of the world start having too much sway on the subject - let's hear what you, the readers, have to say! Must a picture book app/eBook have interactivity? Is there room for both?

20 comments:

  1. There's room for both. There just needs to be a way to separate these two kinds of books, in the same way a bookstore has a section for pop-ups and pull-tabs.

    There's a definite place for regular picture books in this world. Surely parents will welcome the addition of digital picture books, particularly if they're traveling.

    I had an interesting conversation with a friend who said his small children saw the ipad as a computer, meaning a place to play games -- where you touch things and they move. And it's true, if kids aren't reading yet, they're not reading on screens. They play on screens.

    But kids will learn that a screen can also contain a story that their parent reads to them. They'll learn that an ipad can be a place to play, AND it can be something that they look at together with their parents.

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  2. Amy, I agree - some delineation would be good.
    I've also heard interesting comments from parents - that they won't share highly interactive apps with their kids before bedtime because they tend to get them all wound up. Whereas a straight forward digital 'book' is okay and can calm a wiggly child just like a traditional picture book does.

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  3. Hmm. I'm wondering if this is more of a labeling problem. Because Lula is called an app rather than an ebook, this reviewer expected Angry Birds or something.

    -- Laura

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  4. I wish there was a way to leave a comment at Kirkus(!) Hopefully the reviewers will catch up with the nuances of digital books sooner rather than later.

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  5. As an author & illustrator entering the App/ ebook world I think of an App as just another format to present my book. I don't think Apps have to have fancy features to be fun. Reviewers need to review the App in it's present "state" and not compare it to what it SHOULD be...but was it IS.

    My App, Wednesday is Spaghetti Day" IS a book. It has a "read to" feature as well as music and touch features, but no fancy animations.

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/spaghetti-day-hd/id402271601?mt=8
    I'm working to get the same book on the Nook & Ibookstore.- Different formats - same book. I hope when reviewed they consider the content. . . A great story to share...no matter what the format.

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  6. I talked about this a bit with you at the Carolina SCBWI conference in the fall. The e-book scene for picture books is an exciting place, but it's also one of murky definitions. At what point does a book stop being a book and become a game? Personally I lean on the side of less interaction. Maybe some buttons to push, a few slides that animate--the kind of stuff you'd do with a pop-up book. Any more than that, and you might as well be playing Angry Birds. I think it would be great if the app store had an interactivity scale or something. Maybe five stars would mean super game-like interactivity, and one star would mean no interactivity other than page turns.

    People always look at this in a bad way, but I think the fact that kids today have so many entertainment options is great. You can use different levels of interactivity at different ages, or save certain books or apps for different times of day, or learning levels.

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  7. Laura, I agree that might be the problem and yet, apps and ebooks are not the same thing (as described in a previous post). Until recently, picture books had no other option than to be apps.

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  8. Yeah, Elizabeth, that's what I was referring to, the fact that picture books are called apps because ePub doesn't really support them, so there's confusion even amongst reviewers.

    -- Laura

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  9. I agree with Elizabeth that storybooks without a lot of interactivity have their place in the e-book world, just like picture books have their place in the print book world. Personally, I think a lot of interactivity could unnecessarily distract a young reader from the story.

    Toni Rhodes
    RhodeSoft (producer of Lula's Brew)
    www.ReadingRhino.com

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  10. Laura, iBooks does support full-bleed picture books now. It's in the most recent iBookstore Asset Guide 4.5, available to registered users. It's a hybrid of epub and PDF, apparently.

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  11. Right, Loreen, but that's a new development, no?

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  12. Laura,
    I know you knew the difference - now I just wish the reviewers did! And Austin, I agree, a sliding scale indicating the level of interactivity is a great idea! :) e

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  13. Very true Laura! I just heard about it recently. It's painful on the cutting edge, you know?

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  14. This is an interesting subject even for novelists. I was looking at Book Baby's websiteand noticed that they're offering to put video clips into books. And I thought, just because you can put video clips into a book, does that mean you must simply because certain devices support such things?

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  15. Truly! And the ePub picture book I spoke about in the earlier post on ebooks vs. apps - Tron: The movie storybook - it won't be in color on the Kindle if it's even available there. I'll have to look.

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  17. Yup, Tron isn't available on the Kindle, just Apple right now. So this new ePub thing isn't happening on all devices just yet.

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  18. Okay, about Laura's comment about just because you can add interactivity, should you do it: -- I just got the Feb Oprah magazine, which is about creativity, and apparently they have an ipad edition (haven't seen) where you can doodle on your ipad IN the ipad Oprah magazine and it uploads to the Oprah website. Now that's a great mesh of interactivity and a brand. I loved that! So yes, I think it has to add something. (And I hope it's true about the Feb issue of ipad Oprah.) One of these days, I'll get my hands on an ipad!

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  19. I'm still hoping someone will invent a reader just for kids. (Looks like an etch a sketch, fairly Unbreakable, cheap) Something a kid could actually own.
    No. I don't believe an ebook needs bells and whistles. The important thing for the child is that they be able to play it over and over and that it have voice capability

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  20. Susan, some do exist, though I don't know how cheap they are, or how well they work. But I think the technology and affordability will improve quickly.

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