A book is a book, an app is an app

One the smartest  members of  the new generation trying to find their path in an world  where the current news media is in mortal danger is Cody Brown, a 21-year-old student at New York University.

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He has posted an very interesting column in TechCrunch, Dear Author Your Next Book should be an App, not an Ibook.

Brown asks:

So much has been said in the past few weeks about how the iPad will change the book industry but in almost all of the tweets, posts, and articles I’ve come across a simple questions seems to be completely dropped. Why do we have books in the first place?

And goes on

If you, as an author, see the iPad as a place to ‘publish’ your next book, you are completely missing the point. What do you think would have happened if George Orwell had the iPad? Do you think he would have written for print then copy and pasted his story into the iBookstore? If this didn’t work out well, do you think he would have complained that there aren’t any serious鈥憆eaders anymore? No. He would have looked at the medium, then blown our minds.

And concludes

I can say with a lot of confidence that the ‘books’ that come to define my generation will be impossible to print. This is great.

Later in response to comments on  TechCrunch, Cody Brown tweeted

To address a lot of initial comments. I’m suggesting a new medium, not *total displacement* of books. Just registered www.padature.com

Dear Cody:

An app is an app and a book is book.

I’ve published five books and written another five or so that weren’t published (and the first few weren’t publishable).

So here’s the first big question. If the next generation of books become impossible to print, how long will they last?

As many critics of  the iPad have asked, how long will the iPad last?  Will your iApp be obsolete in ten years, while the book printed on paper is still read?

I’ve spent this weekend preparing to move from Toronto to British Columbia.

I’ve been dividing my books into three piles.

Some of my research material from my books are going to libraries and archives. Some I’m donating to my sister’s church for a bazaar sale (I have so much to do I can’t be bothered with the used bookstore route).

The third pile has those books I’m keeping.  

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The oldest book in my collection was published in 1874, written by American war correspondent Januarius MacGahan, covering the Russian conquest of  central Asia, Campaigning the Oxus and the Fall of Khiva.  (Khiva is an ancient city in what today is Uzbekistan.)

Let’s compare that with news on the web, which often disappears as soon as management changes a sever.

When Wikileaks  this week released the controversial video of the 2007 shooting in Baghdad. I went hunting on the web for another piece of  airborne video, the USAF pilots dropping a bomb on Canadian soldiers in Kandahar on April 18, 2002, now known as the Tarnak Farms incident.

Some years later, probably in 2006, that Kandahar video was leaked to ABC News.  I was one of the CBC news staff assigned to track down the video. (I’ll never forget the USAF spokeswoman who told  me, “Just because it’s been on television doesn’t mean it isn’t classified.”)

The video was eventually released by the USAF (I am not sure when, but probably sometime during the court martial proceedings).  The problem is that if you want to compare the pilot’s attitude over Kandahar with those of the Apache pilots over Baghdad, you can’t.  The video is gone from the web.  The links on both the CBC and CNN sites are dead.  I was unable to find it on the ABC News site (which originally broadcast the video)  and the video is not linked on the Wikipedia page on the Tarnak Farms incident.

Shortly after the Tarnak Farms incident, I produced a multimedia piece for CBC News, a combination of  stills, video and text, on three Iraqi exiles living in Toronto on their thoughts prior to the upcoming US led invasion. That too is gone from the web.

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I was always a klutz with a typewriter;  one reason I fell in love with computers.  I wrote my first book, King of the Mob, on an Osborne  1 (double density), with a tiny four inch screen.   The operating system was CP/M and the word processor was Word Star. Both are long gone.

A few years later, I did  convert the manuscript from CP/M Word Star to MS Dos text. The problem is that the manuscript is stored on 5.25 inch floppy disks.  Today’s computers don’t even take the successor, the 3.5 inch floppies.  (My first PC had a “giant” 40 megabyte hard drive. Now the photographs  I take with my DSLR are all greater than 40 mg)

It’s interesting that you are quoting George Orwell.   So I’m  wondering, along with many others, if Steve Jobs is the new Big Brother, with all the controls that Apple is placing on the apps.  Apple seems to want to control not only the  programming language but likely the content as well, as outlined in this New York Times article, Rethinking a Gospel of the Web.
As reported by Mashable, that has sparked a war with Adobe and as one widely quoted blog has reported, raised concerns among multi-platform app developers.

What if Steve Jobs and the Apple staff don’t approve of that app you have spent so much time to create?

If you do all that work, do you want to have to hire an expensive lawyer to make sure that a 200 page digital rights management agreement doesn’t  screw you and leave you with just pennies from that $9.99? Will that Apple DRM  prevent you from porting that app to another system? 

Will that DRM prevent you from taking advantage of some new technology not yet thought of? (After all the big book publishing firms are already trying a rights grab from authors to convert existing material to e-books based on the word “book form” in original contracts. The only people going to profit from that are the lawyers as they argue the meaning of “book form.”)

If you do you all that work, what happens if your project is arbitrarily deleted as Amazon deleted George Orwell’s Animal farm from Kindle (George Orwell again)?  Even worse, what if somehow accidentally your project is deleted from the server (as has happened to me)?  Even if you have backup, it might take days or even weeks to get the app back on the system, if ever.

I agree with your Tweet and your new term “pdature” that some interactive app system is a new medium with a great deal of potential   

But the comments on TechCrunch are right. Is this something that an individual can do?   It’s very time consuming just to research and write book length journalism without having to program an interactive flash map of the character’s movements (Oops. Flash is a no-no for Apple).  Can you do that or will that be something taken over by a gaming company like Electronic Arts?

Will you have the time? Especially if there is no advance or only a small advance for a project like that, especially if it sells for just $9.99 while you’re trying to pay the rent and keep food on the table.

Don’t get me wrong. I want projects like that to succeed and make a lot of money for you, the creator (not just Apple or Electronic Arts).

A book is a book and an app is app.  

In 2074, people will still be able to read MacGahan’s Campaigning the Oxus two hundred years after it was published (especially since it was printed on acid free paper).  I am sure you can produce as brilliant a piece of journalism sometime in your future career. But if it’s an app, and not a book, will people be able to read it in 2074?

best wishes

Robin

(P.S. I am looking for a good home for my Osborne, since I don’t want to to take it with me across the continent. Any ideas would be welcome)

Cassandra contemplates the iPad 1.0

It’s  iPad day in the geek world, April 2, 2010, the day that Apple releases the long-awaited iPad.

Cassandra, is worried, but unfortunately no one listens to her. People should listen.

Millions apparently have already rushed online and pre-bought or pre-ordered an iPad 1.0, just as others lined up for Iphones a while ago. Then from my friends with 3G Iphones, especially those in New York, came the tweeted, blogged and voiced complaints about poor connections to wireless networks and poor battery life if you have too many of those delicious, but power-draining apps.

As for myself,  I’m going to wait and see how the iPad actually works.  Whatever happened to the old adage of never buy Version 1.0 of anything?

Just how good is the iPad battery life?

What about predictions that the iPad will overwhelm bandwidth in some parts of the world?

Just how will the public react to news originally from newspapers, wire service or TV on the iPad?

Will the public pay for news on an iPad? Some media outlets say they will charge for material on the Ipad, others say they won’t charge.   That media question alone will keep economics students writing their Phds long after the current crop of iPads is being torn apart by child labour in some developing world hell hole.

I decided that my own media preview of the iPad was in order.

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So through sources on Mt. Olympus (I have family connections in that part of Greece) I asked Hermes, god of both messengers and thieves, to use his skills to obtain an iPad from Cupertino and deliver it to Cassandra, the princess from Troy who had great beauty and the gift of true prophecy but was cursed by Apollo (whom she spurned) so that no one would believe her prophecies.

It was Cassandra who warned the Trojans not to bring that wooden horse inside the city walls.

Her first reaction was, “What do I need this for? Since Apollo’s snakes licked my face, I can see all and know all.”

“I can tell you this,” Cassandra told me in an interview from an undisclosed location. “There will be unintended and surprising consequences from this iPad thingy.

“There was a day like this, not long ago, Oct. 13, 1994, when the beta version of Netscape Navigator was released. I said then that this Netscape would change the entire world within days, and no one listened, and Netscape did, the world, until today, has run on browsers.  Now there are iPads. Of course, I warned Netscape there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, but did they listen? No.

“Take that all seeing eye, the digital camera.  At first, the digital camera was expensive, and only a few professionals used one. Now millions have digital cameras and it is destroying the world of professional photography– although that world can be rebuilt in time.”

“Some expert last year welcomed the world inside what he called the castle walls of journalism in encouraging ‘user generated content.’     Well the Trojans welcomed that horse, despite my warnings, and we know what happened….

“The city was destroyed?” I asked.

“Oh that too,” Cassandra snorted.  “But can you count just how many bards, poets, writers, artists,  potters,  painters,  historians, archaeologists,  actors, movie makers, TV producers, game designers have been living off that story for the past three thousand years? Not to mention what’s coming up in 2025…..”

“What in 2025?”

“You wouldn’t believe me,  even if I told you.”  .

“So what changes will the iPad bring?”

“Well these ones you will believe because all have happened so many times before.  

“One. The war between the creators of content and the  computer engineers goes on and on just like the wars with the centaurs.  I see no end there. 

“About ten years ago, I appeared in human form at a conference of media executives. I warned them that while they had to spend money on computers, their bards and chroniclers were their most important asset.  Did they believe me? No, they didn’t. Now for every journalist they can out on to the street they have to hire three IT people.   The iPad doesn’t run Flash. That means hiring more IT people to do the same work over and over, while throwing away the people who actually create the content.  But did anyone listen? No.

“Two.  Not all centaurs were bad guys of course, look at Chiron. Some years from now, some kid will find a new and amazing way to use not just the iPad but all the tablets out there.”

“Who, what, where?”

“You wouldn’t believe me. But believe me, that kid will be fabulously rich before he’s 28.”

“Three. A lost or misplaced iPad will be the centre of a major world crisis before the year 2020.”

“What will happen?”

“You won’t believe me, even if I told you.”

“How will the iPad change journalism?”

“There will be a new device, after the iPad. It too will come from a geeky kid, in a workshop, somewhere in the developing world. Even my vision cannot see where or when this will happen.

“The browser, the smart phone, the tablet/ipad, no these will remain but this new, new thing, that will be the most profound change of all. The creators will once again be able to earn their coins. But there will be many more creators.

“Can you tell me some details?”

“You wouldn’t believe me…..”

“What do you think of the iPad?”

“The battery run out too soon.  I asked Hermes to return it.”

“Thank you Cassandra.”

“Thank you. There’s one prophecy you can believe. Copy desks around the world are going to hate the spelling i-P-a-d”

“You’re right. Thank you again.”