Moss Rock Review – August 2011

Making a fortune from an out-of-copyright poem – APPsolutely incredible!

It is early June 2011 and the top grossing app for the Apple iPad tablet is… a poem first published in 1922? This is a joke, right?

Not a joke. For a few glorious days, the enhanced ebook of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land did edge out the Angry Birds video game for top spot overall. By the end of the summer, it was staying top in the book app category, just ahead of the Marvel Comics app. Something brilliant is going on here for publisher Faber & Faber to be bringing in so much attention — and money — for a poem so old that it is now in the public domain.

Taking full advantage of the iPad’s capabilities, The Waste Land app has not only the full text of the poem, but a new BBC-produced performance of the entire poem by Fiona Shaw, audio recordings by Alec Guiness, Ted Hughes, Victor Mortenson and Eliot himself, over three dozen expert video commentaries, and scans of the manuscript showing Ezra Pound’s extensive edits. All for $13.99. The reader switches seamlessly between video to audio to text-only; while Fiona or Alec performs, the text is always shown in sync. The app is like an interactive TV show cum encyclopedia or thesis, celebrating this iconic poem.

With this and other fantastic new enhanced ebooks (more examples later), I believe we are seeing the vanguard of the next era in publishing, with changes even wilder than the tumultuous upheavals of the past few years.

Henry Volans, head of Faber Digital, in an interview with The Guardian, said: “I used to be an editor here. Now the role is much more like that of a producer… you’re making something happen with a variety of skills, from software engineers and designers, and indeed a television director on one hand, to Eliot scholars, poetry academics and actors on the other… There’s this sense that book publishers will have a lot of competition from other industries [film, television] as well, so we have to learn these skills. I believe that the books business and writers and publishers could and should use technology to their best advantage because other people will if we won’t.”
(Full article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jun/12/ts-eliot-waste-land-ipad-app.)

Meanwhile, Our Choice, which is Al Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, is an interactive iPad ebook/ magazine/ presentation app so cleverly presented that it won the 2011 Apple Design Award. It costs $4.99. Push Pop Press, the design/software agency which created the multi-touch app interface for Our Choice, was just acquired by Facebook. Facebook apparently doesn’t plan to enter the ebook publishing game itself, and bought Push Pop for its designers and software engineers so Facebook might add storytelling/app capabilities for its 750 million users. Wow, that could be a lot of competition!

No doubt looking to generate new income while providing more access to its collections, the British Library just launched an iPad app which provides access to full scans of all its 19th century books for 1.99 GB pounds per month.

Produced by 1K Studio for Penguin is the “amplified edition” of Jack Kerouac’s 1957 beat generation novel, On The Road. There is the complete text, of course, plus an interactive map of the route taken, archival photographs, reproduction of the original 120-foot-long manuscript scroll, letters, video interviews with Kerouac’s contemporaries, documentary footage, even tributes by Bob Dylan, John Updike and others. The Guardian‘s reviewer James Campbell warns that all this “amplification” bogs down the reader with facts, footnotes and technical distraction. He recommends reading from a printed book so your imagination can soar.

Nonetheless, Cinram, a $2 billion Toronto-based company that is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of music and movie CDs and DVDs (who knew?), was impressed enough with the potential of On The Road that it bought 1K Studio, presumably so Cinram can get a jumpstart into the next big thing (diversifying away from what must surely be a declining business).

It seems that everybody wants to be an app producer/publisher in the iPad era.

(c) copyright 2011, Bruce Batchelor

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