Are interactive e-books apps or e-books?

Could Apple’s app store/iBooks store submission rules be stifling creativity in e-books? That’s the question posed by a FastCompany article by Adam Penenberg looking at a couple of interactive children’s books that the husband-and-wife team of Ellen Jacob and Kirk Cheyfitz have created for the iPad. Jacob and Cheyfitz take the approach that, while reading must come first, interactivity can be added in ways that enhance the story rather than distract from it.

The problem is, books sold via the iBookstore have to be created on the iAuthor platform, which means they can only offer video and links. But Jacob and Cheyfitz’s books have a lot more interactivity—pictures you can tap on that animate, sound effects, and so forth—and were created on gaming platforms. Consequently, they have to go to the app store.

"Apple’s approach doesn’t allow many interactions in e-books," Jacob says. "You can put in an entire movie but you can’t put in something that makes kids read deeper. What’s the sense in that?" Cheyfitz adds: "Start with the classic notion of a book as being, in its most basic form, ink on paper, words, and pictures. We began with a book, and now Apple has informed us that is not a book, it is an app."

This is important because of the perceived difference in price between e-books and apps. If something is classified as an “e-book”, people are willing to pay a lot more for it than for an app. Apps tend to top out at $4.99, but e-books often cost $9.99 and up—and it costs eight times as much to build an innovative, interactive e-book.

Cheyfitz suggests Apple should come up with a separate app category for interactive e-books so customers could easily find them, and they could more easily maintain uniformly higher prices than the apps to which they would otherwise be compared.

It really is an interesting issue. Where do you draw the line between an “interactive book” and an app? Apple’s division is necessarily artificial, but to some extent any division would be, much as with any other arbitrary categorization of things that have most of the same elements in common. (For example, fans have been arguing for decades over what is “science fiction” and what is “fantasy”, and will probably continue to argue until the sun goes dark.) You have to draw the line somewhere.

Then again, Apple no longer allows unenhanced “appbooks” in its app store, since the creation of iBookstore. Perhaps it will eventually do something about interactive books as well.

3 Comments on Are interactive e-books apps or e-books?

  1. This appears to me to be factually incorrect. The iBookstore does not require the use of iBooks Author, a free app from Apple designed to create interactive textbooks. The iBookstore is based primarily upon the ePub standard which can be created by any number of applications, even plain text editors . Perhaps what they meant to say was, “… interactive (text) books sold via the iBookstore have to be created on the iBooks Author platform … ”

    This doesn’t preclude the possibility that Apple will one day expand iBooks Author to create interactive children’s *.ibooks files or create a separate app to do this. Right now, though, eBooks (whether .epub or .ibooks or .mobi or whatever) do not have the interactive powers of native iOS applications, maybe web applications as well. That is simply a technical matter of fact.

  2. Some people are never happy unless they have something to complain about ..

    An App is something that runs on an Operating System like iOS or Android etc.

    An eBook is a file you read with an App that runs on an Operating System like iOS or Android etc.

    I don’t get the confusion…

  3. @Howard: “I don’t get the confusion…”

    Because there are a lot of apps, many predating the iBookstore, that are basically an e-reader wrapped around a book or books?

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