Why Making Your Next Book an App is Fucking Stupid

I don’t follow Tech Crunch, but if you’re on Twitter and following over a dozen people, it’s likely you’ll see their stuff mentioned. I read the more interesting things and today I threw up a little in my mouth when I read the post title Dear Authors, Your Next Book Should Be an App, Not an iBook.

Ok, Mac fanboys/girls. You can go out and buy those iPads & it’s fine with me. But can we put down the Kool-Aid and USE OUR BRAINS for a second? It might hurt a little, but it’s a good stretch.

Let me preface this by saying that I work in a library. I have done so for years. I have worked in all kinds of libraries—public and private. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I love books, but I do. And while I like physical books, I have no hatred for ebooks, etc. I’m all about preserving things digitally and making them available in digital formats as well (legally….I’m looking at you, Google). “The more the merrier!” I say. In fact, I have nothing against a book being an app. I’ll write more about that a little later.

Let’s talk digital, actually. Hopefully you already know that most people don’t have Apple products. If they do, it’s likely just an iPod. They don’t have the whole MacBook array. And there are a lot of people here in America who don’t have computers at all. You should see the internet lines at your local public library.

Then there are people who have Kindles and want to read on those. There are people who like physical books. There are people who can only afford to read books because they get them at their library for free (tax dollars). And let me tell you, there are a LOT of them. Just stop by the backroom of the local library where I used to work. They have thousands of books there that they haven’t yet had the staffpower to get back on the shelves. People are reading that much. It’s a busy and low-income area and many of these people couldn’t afford Mac products, let alone buying special apps for each book.

And…………………………there’s the fucking future.

Maybe it’s because my goal is to work in archives, but my first response was “an app? how fucking short-sighted can you be?!?!”

I know this was written by a 21-year-old and my brain has certainly developed a lot over the last 3 years. But still.

Here’s an example. Originally, it’s believed that Homer’s stories were oral tales told by one or more people in ancient Greece. Then they were written down. Papyrus became manuscripts. Manuscripts became printed books. Printed books themselves have changed a great deal. You can get The Odyssey in super-cheap paperback and in really nicely-printed volumes. Then they became ebooks and Kindle books and iBooks.

My point? Homer has fucking lasted. That’s the dream. The dream of most (not all) storytellers is to have their story go as far as possible. Translated into other languages? Yes. Lasting longer than just our generation? Awesome. Making money is good too.

Because that means your story has touched people, it’s made a difference, it’s a truly great story.

And that’s where we come back to the article. Leaving aside the whole bit about “solving a puzzle” to get to the next chapter—the idea of tying your story to a particular platform which is a) not used by the majority of readers b) not affordable for a huge demographic (yes, 21-year-old Mac fanboy…there are a LOT of poor people in America. and they’re reading.) c) and not guaranteed to last…..it’s idiocy.

Authors would lose the chance to make sales if they only wrote an app version and they’d also lose that magical potential that story has to last for thousands of years (why I picked Homer).

There’s the whole other question of whether every book would even work in the app format. Stories all have a best way of being told and making yours interactive just to make it interactive could kill an otherwise brilliant story.

Maybe a Book Should HAVE an App…

Now that I’ve said all that, I’m not actually against the idea of electronic augmentation of books. I think it’s fantastic. I think that books should be made available in as many forms as possible and promoted as many ways as possible. And I think that it’s awesome when technology augments a book.

Some modern authors (I’ve seen this particularly in YA Lit) create blogs and Twitter feeds for their characters. Others create Facebook pages. Movies get tied-in apps & video games, I see no reason why books shouldn’t either. A copy of the book + augmentation all in one app? If it works, make it available!

There’s a huge difference between limiting yourself to one platform and making something special for that platform.

What if a Book Should BE an App?

There are a lot of ways to tell a story. Some stories are told better in some formats than others. Some stories make a better 6-hour miniseries than feature film. Some books are better done in first-person limited than third-person omniscient. Sometimes it’s immediately apparent to an author and sometimes they have to change it as they go along.

Floating among the other brilliant concepts for brilliant books, I’m sure there are dozens of potential books that would work really well as apps. (the snarky part of my brain is suggesting the entire “Choose Your Own Adventure” series.) And those books should be written too. They should even be written as apps. And, for the rest of us, it’d be great if some sort of text-version were released as well.

If your book actually should be an app, then I see no reason why not to write it as one. But seriously, put down the Kool-Aid and have a beer.

2 Comments

  1. Nancy says:

    A “Choose Your Own Adventure” book app would be fantastic! Particularly if there was a save feature, so you can revisit a particularly awesome adventure. (No, I’m not at all bitter about that one time I had a really fun story in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book that I could never recreate properly; why do you ask?)

    I even think that the TC author’s idea of locking up sections of a book until a puzzle is solved or something could make for a really interesting experience, if presented in the right way.

    But, since books exist for centuries, while computer data lasts for… considerably less time, the imminent death of the book is highly exaggerated.

  2. Ruth says:

    @Nancy as a plus, Choose Your Own Adventure-types don’t really have to last, so they could do iPad releases without even worrying about the broader market they were ignoring, or the future. It’d be more like a puzzle game anyway. :)

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