Whither the book app?

book appJuli sent this blog post my way, by indie writer L.R. Styles. In the post, Styles laments the cost and difficulty of producing book apps—not non-fiction interactive apps, but ones based on novels, with soundtracks and old-timey fonts and so on. From the post:

“As an indie author, I love the idea of making each book title into an app. Such individualization—to me–really helps focus on the feel and tone I envisioned for each book when writing it. Just being able to include a soundtrack, font and old-school decorative printing flourishes makes my mind whirl with ideas, and such is the case for many of my fellow authors.”

As the reader, not the writer, in this little equation, I would like to take this opportunity to plead with Styles to put the brakes on this train of thought right here, right now, before we go any further. Please don’t make apps based on indie novels. Please don’t. PLEASE don’t.

Here is why: to you, your novel is a unique, precious, individual snowflake. I get it, I do. I see why, on an abstract level, making it as pretty as your heart imagines it must be an appealing option. But for me, the reader…well, I read a hundred books a year, on a good year. I simply don’t have the disk space on my reader to store a hundred unique, special, disk-hogging apps. I need to keep them limited to ePub files, of a reasonable size, safely corralled within iBooks, and not cluttering up every home screen.

An enhanced book within such an ecosystem is a sometimes-possibility. I recently bought a picture book my boss to use in a lesson with some kids, and it used an enhanced format which was used to preserve the layout of the text and pictures. That was useful and necessary for this type of book, and I could read it within the regular Kindle app, so I didn’t mind.

I have also seen a few types of books which really benefit from interactivity. For instance, I am thinking of buying the BOB Books app for use on the school iPads. This is a series of phonics readers which we already have in paper, and the interactive features are useful for helping emerging readers learn how to sound out words. But even in this situation, the app can store more than one book! Sure, it can only load THEIR books. But it can at least load more than one of them.

With all due respect to L.R. Styles, who I have never heard of until today, I’d like to humbly suggest that if you want to progress beyond the struggling indie stage, you think more about what the readers want, less about what you personally want. I will never, ever buy an app that only reads one book, and I would really NOT like to see that become a trend. Ugh. I can’t imagine a worse form of iPad pollution than a thousand apps for a thousand self-published genre titles.

Editor’s Note: Juli completely agrees with Joanna on the “thousand apps” point. I like to keep my devices clean, and I prefer my books in a small number of apps. That said, I do think there is a place for interactivity in ebooks, but I’d also rather they stayed within the confines of an ereading app (or apps).

4 Comments on Whither the book app?

  1. Some of the puzzle-solving games from suppliers like Big Fish are essentially ‘book apps’. They introduce characters who interact in various ways, they put forward and resolve plot points, they have a denouement, and so on. But they do it all in pictures and animation, because they can, and they allow the user to participate by solving puzzles, finding hidden objects and issuing directions, because they can.

    If someone wants to turn their indie novel into a puzzle-solving game, then I’ll consider it on its merits alongside the others produced by professional game-makers, though I don’t think it’s going to rate very highly. But if they just want to demonstrate how ‘special’ they are by adding pointless fluff to their text, then no thanks.

  2. Joanna & Juli, believe it or not, reading this piece induced a sense of relief in me.

    Many “we never heard of you before” indie authors–including myself–have been under the impression for the last year and a half–from several articles like Alex Knapp’s (which I mentioned in my piece)–that eBook apps are the wave of the future. But, as I also mentioned in my piece (perhaps link so readers can get context) there seems to a blurring of the line between apps and enhanced eBooks in the mind of younger audiences. Such eBook buyers seem content with buying existing eBooks, which is why many indies don’t try to make apps.

    None of us have really considered device storage space in the pros & cons, however. I appreciate feedback like this, all digs on uniqueness aside. Thank you for mentioning my article and exploring the subject to the best of your ability.

    – L. R. Styles

  3. That’s great, L.R. I wonder if you’ll be approving my comments on your original blog post out of moderation any time soon? It’s been several days…

  4. Chris Meadows, my apologies for the delay, sir. Your remarks have been approved and were packed with apropos tips that my husband and I appreciated receiving. I’ve have had several emails from fellow authors on your app advice.

    Our time is divided between our four children, our urban organic garden and our day jobs, but your admonition for timely approvals was heard. Thank you.

    I’d heard of Scrivener but never had a recommendation for it before. Again, I appreciate your helpful remarks. It is hard to get such information without condescension leveled at indie writers nor undo amounts of snark.

    L. R. Styles

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