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eBooks vs. Apps: The Pros, Cons and Possibilities–Webinar Notes

with 2 comments

More than 600 people attended Digital Book World’s webinar on Tuesday, 27 July, “eBooks vs. Apps: The Pros, Cons and Possibilities,” that explored the production and budgetary benefits and pitfalls of developing applications versus enhancing eBooks. The presenters were:

  • Peter Costanzo, Director of Online Marketing, The Perseus Books Group
  • Pablo Defendini, Interactive Producer, Open Road Integrated Media
  • Eric Freese, Solutions Architect, Aptara

My notes from the webinar:

Enhanced eBooks University identified a catalog of 27 types of enhancements for ebooks (from “Enhanced eBooks Today and Tomorrow: A Survey for Authors and Publishers”), some of which include:

  • Media: audio, video, screencasts, animations
  • Enhanced content: covers, annotations, accessible, supplemental
  • Social: sharing, social reading, social networks
  • Device-based: geolocation, accelerometer
  • Interactivity: games, analytics, transmedia

Apps are considered a form of enhanced ebook.

Enhanced ebooks are:

  • Ebooks that go beyond a digital snapshot of a printed books
  • Data files (based on a standard) that can be viewed and processed by a variety of platforms and devices
  • Based data files (non-DRM) are interoperable between devices that support the same standard
  • Dependent on access being provided by target platform

Apps are:

  • Programs written to run on a specific platform, such as, the Kindle for iPad and Kindle for Android are different programs
  • May be based on published materials
  • Interoperability cannot be guaranteed: app written for iPhone will run on iPad, but there are iPad apps that won’t run on iPhone
  • Generally easier access to functionality provided by target platform

Enhanced ebooks vs. apps: side-by-side comparison matrix:

Matrix showing various eBook device enhancement options

Matrix showing various eBook device enhancement options

Enhanced ebooks are:

  • Easier to develop
  • Generally less expensive
  • Endowed with some degree of interoperability
  • Functionally dependent on platform and standards


  • Require custom development expertise
  • Must have access to full functionality of platform
  • Are perceived to be more feature-rich

Enhanced eBook concepts

  • Based on ebook functionality, maintain all the good things about ebooks (reflow, portability, etc.)
  • The EPUB standards supports enhanced ebooks now (many perceived limitations come from eReader implementations, not the standard)
  • Graceful degradation (support new capabilities without abandoning the installed base; give info to reader that they are not able to do something, like not fun Flash or video or whatever; can offer several ways to show and if not)

Sample ebook enhancements (based on use of World English Bible)

  • Collapsible table of contents
    • Allows easier navigation of large content
    • Can be set up in ePub file
    • Displayed controlled by device/software
  • Hidden searchable text: Allows users to search terms that might not occur in the content
  • Internal linking (footnotes/annotations/cross-references/indexes)
    • Bidirectional linking: when you click to go to a link, you can go back to where you were originally linked; stay away from either one character or subscripts or superscripts, which may be hard to actually touch or click
    • Inline footnotes/annotations
      • Allows extra data to be shown inline (formatting can be an issue)
      • Reduces back page confusion
      • Can results in cluttered display
    • Pop-up footnotes
      • Reduces clutter and confusion
      • Uses JavaScript in background
      • Works on eReaders built on browser interface
    • Cross-references (not discussed)
    • Indexes (not discussed)
  • External linking (geolocation/directions/associated websites): Make link to map, for example, which opens a browser in separate window; iBooks prompts user before leaving, which can be annoying
  • Audio
    • HREF method opens new app window
    • HTML5 Audio tag works within reader app (will play clip within reader)
  • Video
    • HREF method opens new app window
    • HTML5 Video tag works within reader app (will play clip within reader)
  • Interactivity
    • Ability to play Flash, for example. Like playing Tic-Tac-Toe vs. the book
    • Slide show of pictures

Enhancement considerations

  • Should be dictated by the content, not vice versa
  • Ebooks, enhanced ebooks and apps should receive the same level of planning as print materials
  • Design for graceful degradation: allows files to work on widest range of devices possible by building in fall-back options
  • Keep finished file sizes in mind
  • Test on all target devices

App development considerations:

  • No “apps for the sake of apps”
  • Separate content from programming as much as possible to capitalize on portability
  • Use open standards whenever possible

Major formats for ebooks (what will deliver best experience for user should be considered; no sweeping strategy at Perseus on a format)

  • ePub
  • Mobi
  • PDF

Major apps for ebooks:

  • Windows
  • Android

ROI: these are still the early days for trying out these pubs and just seeing what can be done; just keep learning and keep progressing.

3 most important things to keep in mind for publishing projects:

  • Know customers & what do they expect
  • What devices, platforms they are using
  • Know content and what’s available and how to enhance for the user

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for the info, Larry! I tried to view the video, after the webinar, and was unable to get it to work, so your notes are very helpful.

    We are book and magazine publishers who are braving the rapids of this changing publishing world. Feels like I’m back in school! Learn something new every day.

    Love it!

    Thanks for the education.

    Wendy Leech

    Wendy Leech

    30 July 2010 at 03:17

    • Thanks, Wendy, for the post. It thought the webinar was insightful and the information useful to those of us wanting to know more about ebooks vs. apps. Glad that you at least got the gist of the webinar without attending.

      Learning is always fun. I couldn’t imagine not learning something new every day. Continuing education is just that: The world moves too quickly and if you get off that merry-go-round, it’s hard to get back on.


      30 July 2010 at 04:49

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