There’s a lot of conversation in the publishing industry today about the fate of books, magazines and newspapers in the age of the iPad and other tablet computers. Two notable interactive books that have been released in the past two months demonstrate the eye-catching potential that digital publications offer for presenting engaging content that appeals to both consumer and business readers.
Our Choice by Al Gore
The sequel to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Our Choice is “Produced by Melcher Media, published by Rodale, powered by Push Pop Press.” It’s available as a “content app” on Apple’s iTunes ($4.99).
In the book Al Gore reviews the causes of global warming. The book presents a variety of technology and system-based climate solutions that are already available or in development. It includes audio narrative, photography, interactive graphics, and documentary footage. Some of the interactive elements and super cool navigation are demonstrated on the Melcher Media website and in a brief TED presentation by Mike Matas of Push Pop Press.
Melcher Media is both a publisher of consumer-oriented books as well as striking, “market-savvy” books for corporate clients. Still, the fact that it required three companies to publish this one title seems to put it out of reach financially for most marketers except for those with the deepest pockets. But it’s not the only example of interactive book possibilities.
The Final Hours of Portal 2 by Geoff Keighley
Reported and written by Geoff Keighley, and designed by Joe Zeff Design, The Final Hours of Portal 2 chronicles the making of the Portal 2 video game at Valve Corp. It’s available as an app on iTunes ($1.99), and as a digital book for Mac and PC on Steam.
The Final Hours of Portal 2 is long-form, behind-the-scenes journalism that appeals to a highly engaged consumer fanbase. It delivers the slick graphics and interactivity that gamers expect. The 15,000-word story element isn’t quite book-length by traditional publishing standards but it includes many exclusive extras including interactive graphics, games, panorama photos, and song tracks.
One of the game-changing aspects of Keighly’s publication is that it’s essentially self-published, bypassing all of the traditional production, promotion and distribution channels that Gore’s book maintains. But it doesn’t look or feel any less professional and polished, or have the lower quality connotations that self-published books often have.
In part this is because both the medium and app distribution channel for such content are relatively new. It’s also because Valve gave Keighly carte blanche to its offices and people, yet he maintained complete editorial control. Few companies are willing to grant such access. But such calculated risks can result, as The Final Hours of Portal 2 demonstrates, in the type of product promotion and publicity that can’t be bought.
Will digital-only books like these elevate readers’ expectations for interactivity the same way that Amazon’s Kindle and other e-readers have created market expectations for electronic versions of traditional books? That will depend on how common such books become, which depends on the tools, skills and people required to develop them. It will be exciting to see how the spirit of oneupmanship among writers and designers and publishers will push interactive publications forward over the next several years.
*Thanks to Michelle Linn (@michelelinn) from the Content Marketing Institute for making me aware of Our Choice.