Books Going digital — eBooks

A Wednesday thought piece

Books going digital

We really have to think about this as authors and illustrators. Books and the digital world are changing at near shotgun pace and I think that many more of us need to be aware of what is happening and what the possibilities are that are out there for our books. What are we doing with our books for which we have the rights for right now? Are they sitting in our computers (or even just paper) in some old format and taking up space with nothing now to show for our creative endeavours – except of course the wonderful hard copy of the book? Has that book run its life span? It might have, in a hard copy format, but why not take it digital. Have an App (Application) made that adds functionality … like sounds of animals, links to other sources of information, movies of the places and so much more. The creative work that we slaved over for weeks and months – yikes maybe years, has had one life. Now let’s give it another!

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with the folks at Apple. I really love the times I spend with them and they challenged me to see what I can come up with. They showed me some of the amazing Apps that are being created for digital books that are available now for download from iTunes for the iPhone and the iPod. Some are free, some you pay for. I can see my iTunes account building quite dramatically.

Of course who is going to pay for creating my eBook? How much will this cost? And then that creates another issue. I haven’t posted here yet (watch this space) my take on the Digital Rights symposium put on by the APA here in Sydney but one of the key things that came out of that for me as a creator of books is where are the digital rights? Who holds them? I know that when I first began publishing I don’t think it was even covered. But we need to know! The digital rights are another form of income generation for us so what royalties will we get? As the eBook creation grows and grows we need to grow with it.

So, who has the digital rights for the book you created? Is it the publisher? Have they been held back when we signed those contracts, waiting to be hived off to a third party at some later date? Do our agents hold them? If we assign digital rights to the publisher will they take the step forward and create the digital book? For those of us who are the creators of children’s (and that includes YA) trade and education books the up-take to the digital format books has been much slower than it has for many other book forms … but not for long!

Digital books have been long the way to go with scientific publications … and just look at the sales for Dan Brown’s book on the iTunes store! But for kids books the issue of colour and hold-ability and format (amongst other things) has been a hold back. Creating an eBook is not just scanning a page and re-creating the work with fancy page turns on the screen. BUT it can be amazing and the books can have a different (not necessarily better but definitely another) life to them.

Apple’s iPad is going to really bring this to a head (and no I haven’t seen nor played with one yet!). I can though see the amazing possibilities. Already there are super children’s books for which Apps have been created – Beatrix Potter’s books are coming out in eBooks for the iPhone and the iPod touch. Where’s Wally, The Little Red Hen, and Graeme Base’s wonderful title the Jungle Book … these are available for download now and I think they are stunning. Have a look at the YouTube clip of Jungle Drums (

There are software developers (like LoL software who developed the App for Jungle Book) out there who are making just wonderful eBooks – that’s not our job. But we are the creators and most likely we have visions of the possibilities and should be giving the software developers our ideas and ‘things’ to do with our books. Let them turn our visions into a reality!

Maybe the hard copy of the book will be published with a code inside the book that will take the user directly to the iTunes store where they can download the eBook with all the additional life for the book. Won’t it kill the hardcopy of the book is a question that flooded through the mind and I really don’t think so. I think that it will be another life for the book … imagine if my picture book One child was also available as an eBook, then it could link to images and videos, maybe even in real time, of forests being obliterated and canals being polluted and pollution belching out along the motorways … but it could also show, possible with time-lapse photography, the forest being regenerated, the pollution of the rivers and canals disappearing and life returning. Maybe it shows information about the animals in the books … there are heaps of possibilities to think about! And as for my out-of-print (except for the few boxes of copies in my attic) of Zoo You Later my mind is teeming with ideas.

We as authors and illustrators need to hold on and take interest in what is happening. We need to be part of the next stage in the development of the book.

2 Responses to Books Going digital — eBooks

  1. Great blog, Chris – there was an article in the NYT, via Gizmodo, that breaks down the cost differences between ebooks and printed books. Ebooks = slightly less for the author, slightly more for the publisher, and a lot less for the bookseller.

    It looks like the bookseller gets the biggest take, except that while NYT broke down the publisher’s overhead, they failed to do that for the bookselling end of it (probably impossible, given big box stores versus indies.) Good stats to know, though. Here’s the link:

    holly cupala March 3, 2010 at 2:21 pm Reply
  2. Thanks for this interesting post, Chris,

    I agree that the e-book won’t necessarily shorten the life of the traditional version, but as authors we certainly need to keep up to date with what’s going on in the digital age as there are issues of production quality, rights and royalties that need to be dealt with.

    I look forward to your further posts.


    deescribewriting March 8, 2010 at 7:24 pm Reply

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