Phone Book

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Phone Book

If you haven’t seen it yet, this video has been making its way around the InterBloggaTwittersphere today:

Short of making the cardboard frame yourself and purchasing an iPhone to slip inside, we’re not quite there in terms of this capability on the current eReaders, but this video does suggest some wild possibilities, no?

We’re raising children who are obviously comfortable with the ever-adapting technology, sometimes more so than their parents. So why wouldn’t something like this work? Can you envision a model you’d be willing to pay for? Perhaps purchase the dedicated device (or an app for the iPhone) and then pay for each new title? Interesting possibilities, for sure.

(Thanks to @mitaliperkins for the link)

  1. I adore my iphone. It is basically an extension of my hand, I use it pretty much constantly.

    That said – Feh. First of all, it doesn’t have words – which, while not an absolute requirement for a book, certainly don’t hurt. Second, it also doesn’t have a story. This is a cute little game. Which there’s nothing wrong with – but it ain’t a book.


  2. Wait I pressed go too soon! LOL.

    I have seen picture books that are actually books for iPhone, and they aren’t there yet IMO. I think there might be very cool possibilities for sort of “enhanced text” for some kinds of stories – but not everything needs to have an app.


  3. You know me. I’m all about the technology. Something like this could work, and it’s actually a lot like those little Leapfrog devices that are already out there.

    I don’t really think this particular story object in the clip is a book, though, which is a danger of having a technology company driving the innovation instead of an editorial one.

    – There wasn’t a clear story…just moving images a kid can interact with. That takes away two key benefits from reading with children–it builds vocabulary and teaches them how story structure works.

    – Kids under age 2 (this had a boardbook feel) shouldn’t be watching video. The American Pediatrics Association is clear on this.

    I sort of wonder what the point of this is. If it’s to teach kids how to touch and manipulate an object on a screen, then it’s doing it well, and that could be useful in an era where touchscreens are common (hand sanitizer, too).

    It does foster cuddling with a parent, but is it really better than what we already have in a traditional book? I don’t think so.

    It could be compelling for nonfiction.

    At any rate, the key here is to make the case that people who are experts with story are a valuable part of a technology company’s business. (Insert boring Microsoft stories from my past here.)

    It’s a really hard case to make. But if we’re going to produce something of quality AND keep future writing opportunities open, we do have to pay attention to this.


    • Just to be clear, I know the video isn’t a book and doesn’t pretend to be. I was just thinking of it as an example of the possibilities for future interactive products. Yes, the Leapfrog is already doing this sort of work, and if the video and touchscreen elements are too integrated into the story, than it becomes borderline video or even video game. I also worry that if kids get used to interactive books being the norm, then they’ll have trouble switching from this sort of interactive model to simply words on the page as they get older, thereby hurting the appeal of actual books. Interesting stuff, though.


  4. I’m a children’s storyteller trying to segue from spoken work to written. Not easy, at least for me. But I have a couple of dozen original kids stories that might work in this format. The interactivity is an incredible idea. I have been thinking about trying one of my oral stories as an iphone app. Similar to this:

    What do you think, Chris? Is Elizabeth hurting herself long term with agents, editors? Or is this just another way to market and sell yourself and your work? Would a iphone app help or hurt an unpublished writer like me?


    • Ben: It all depends on the quality of the project. If an author came to me saying, “I made an app for this earlier product and it was the most downloaded app on iTunes for the month,” that’s something that would be hard to ignore. Of course, if you already had that sort of success, then you probably wouldn’t need an agent, right? If an author did something like this and it barely sold at all, it’d be the equivalent, to me, of pointing to a self-published book that failed to make a splash. In the end, I’m probably not the best to weigh in, since I don’t even represent picture books. I’m merely interested in new ways of combining the existing model with new technology.


  5. See, I am a mom that is all about the technology. I hand my kid the iphone in stores, let her play games while we’re standing in line at the checkout counter, or even just when we’re driving down the road. I load it full of movies because you never know when you’re going to get stuck in bad traffic on the highway, and I own pretty much every game made by scholastic or pbskids.

    (Pro Tip (I’m a teacher): Rotate out the games on the phone.

    I say yes yes yes to making games and books like this that are more interactive for kids. Heck I say yes to making entire interactive stories on the phone for them to read over and over again.

    Let’s embrace this technology. The touch screen enables children who aren’t yet comfortable with basic (and sometimes more advanced) mouse skills use computers in a way that should be beyond their age. I’m impressed with anything that involves kids and technology, and the idea of adding it to an actual book to make it more interactive makes me happy. 🙂


  6. Chris, I think your worry is valid. One of the key challenges of being a teacher today is keeping kids stimulated with plain old pen and paper (funding just isn’t there for the technology in most schools).
    Yet, the students’ still have that look of wonder and endless possibilities when a story book is cracked open. Please world, don’t take that away…


  7. Wow. The technology just keeps running ahead, taunting us with the possibilities.

    Children will always love stories, as long as parents give them access to ones that interest them. I don’t see this as a replacement for a picturebook, or even an early reader – more as a signal from the future. Things are changing. Get ready to embrace it.

    Thanks for sharing!


  8. . . . so glad a teacher weighed in regarding negative implications on overexposure and the false sense of instructional value these techno gadgets portend to have . . . still waiting for a pediatrician to weigh in on the matter.

    When competing with TV, computers, and so on, try reading to a stuffed animal . . . works every time!


  9. I know how much toddlers love to suck on iphones! The cold steely sensation between their gums. Good for teething! And with their advanced finger and hand coordination they can really tap those teeny key pads and learn to text their teddy bears.

    (If the teddy bears text back… then we have a problem.) Op! New toy idea. Texty the Teddy.


  10. If y’all can’t see the possibilities… think a bit

    1)kid touches screen tree, book asks what color is this tree? (the word Green is flashed and spoken).
    Then what kind of tree is this? (Oak tree is flashed and spoken with a picture of an Oak leaf)

    2)CUT TO OLDER KID: (barely reading now)
    Kid touches leaf… what does a tree leaf do? Book answers and flashes, Photosynthesis. Book asks, what is Photosynthesis. Book answers and flashes: the process by which plants make sugar and oxygen.

    And on to chlorophyll within chloroplasts and cyclosis and stomata and sunlight’s electromagnetic energy…

    3)CUT TO A READING KID: (reading about pirates)
    Text mentions a certain type pirate ship, how it’s made, it’s sails and what each is named. Book flashes pictures of all the above. Then, back to reading about sword fighting pirates and madness/mayhem! Now we’re groovin.’

    C’mon folks, can’t ya read/see it!

    Haste yee back 😉


  11. Ah, it seems like only 18 months ago (and 8 months ago, and 8 weeks ago,) that I was being alternately ridiculed or reviled for suggesting video/music/backstory etc… “enhancements” for digital books.

    This (not this specific thing, which is stoopid,) is the salvation of publishers if they’ll get going on it. It’s labor intensive, probably too much of a pain in the ass for the individual writer. The enhanced digital book is something publishers can still do. And they really ought to be focusing, since they are teetering on the edge of annihilation.

    By the way, the next thing the traditionalists can ridicule me for: advertising in digital books, including ad links in the text itself. (I’ve been pushing that for a while, too.) Ridicule today, come back in a year or so and admit I’m right.


  12. My main question with this thing is why bother having the book at all? What does it add? Not a damn thing. It’s all the animations and interactivity.

    And Michael: Okay, you’re on. Next Christmas, there better be ad links in ebooks or you’re a dirty rotten liar. Will hold you to this.


  13. When queried regarding his drug use Hunter S. Thompson once pined, “…everything in moderation.” Aside from his definition of ‘moderation’ being perversely skewed, his sentiment was spot on.
    Embracing technology is a societal inevitability, as soon as we as a writing community attempt to halt human evolution we become dinosaurs… destined to extinction. Think back, remember when you were a caveman and Lompor the Magnificent wrote on the wall with a fire blackened stick? Or later when Steve Gutenberg’s uncle invented the printing press? I am certain that someone in the gathering crowd of heckler’s must have screamed (blogged?), “Steve’s uncle is a WITCH!” … books for the masses? How absurd.
    Flash forward… crossing the digital divide. Know this – media will change. As media changes, content will follow. The goal should not be to halt the progression, but to ensure that it is backwards compatible. The good thing about words is that their nuance is not easily lost through digitization. Fine art and music is the content I am concerned about… which, of course, includes picture books. The other thing I concern myself with is the use of digital media purely for baby sitting and distracting our children from life’s glorious mundane events.
    So to sum up my rant:
    1) Technology in moderation is good, embrace it, find your niche and express yourself. You have history on your side.
    2) Save our fine art and music, capture the nuance.
    3) Talk, sing and dance with your kids. Whether it be in line at the market or on a cross country car trip. For no better reason than you might miss them when they grow up and leave.


  14. . . . how true!


  15. There’s a *rule* in screenwriting which travels well to prose… goes somethin’ like this. Every word you write must serve to a)advance the story b)develop the characters.

    To Michael Stearns… what if all the animation and interactivity were dedicated to just that?

    Haste yee back 😉


  16. My main question with this thing is why bother having the book at all? What does it add? Not a damn thing. It’s all the animations and interactivity.

    Like putting a steering wheel on your horse and thinking you’ll outsell the Model-T.

    Okay, you’re on. Next Christmas, there better be ad links in ebooks or you’re a dirty rotten liar. Will hold you to this.

    If it doesn’t happen I will of course deny ever making the prediction. And if that doesn’t work I’ll deny that this is the real Michael Grant.


  17. My initial thought was, “Great. Our books are now movies.” But I can see it having some pretty cool educational advances. Still I expect the American Association of Pediatrics will recommend you don’t allow children under the age of two to view, because it’s still a movie.


  18. I was not at all impressed, but my four-year-old boy happened to be standing next to me when I viewed the promo…he asked, “Is that real?” and “Can I have one of those books?” Darn.


  19. . . . Darn—far too kind . . . I say Bah, Humbug! As an adversary of advertising, 3 images come to mind . . .

    * Holidays past – pretty as a picture book
    * Holidays present – visions of interference dance
    in my head
    * Holidays future – no signal


  20. I want in on this drink bet. There will not be ad links in ebooks.

    There is no model for this in other forms of digital text–if advertisers/publishers wanted this, they’d be doing it elsewhere. Like on those websites that generate millions of readers every day.

    What advertisers want is either a mass audience or a good-sized niche audience with money to spend. This is really hard to get with a single book.

    Also, keyword advertising is driven by search terms, not incidental things that crop up in narratives. It’s of value to advertisers because you know the searcher wants it.

    Not saying there won’t be advertising opportunities in books. But they will be more like film trailers or banner ads, two existing ad forms that might be ported to books if the audience size is large enough.

    People will hate it, though, unless there is some perceived benefit (like free books). Also, good luck getting books with lots of ads into a school environment if schools aren’t recipients of some of the revenue.

    I like a dirty martini with olives, btw (insert emoticon).


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