Thursday, July 31, 2008

Online books sound as good as the real thing

I've been checking out this week, the US website that presents full 'preview' versions of  children's picture books. It's the latest service to try and convince fearful publishers that showing off their entire books online will actually generate sales rather than kill them. 

The service shows low resol
ution Adobe Flash versions of the books, thus ensuring that there's very little chance of piracy (even if you download and print the file, it's barely readable). If you like what you see, it invites you to buy the book, rate it, embed it in your blog or share it with a friend. Very Web 2.0.

At the moment, the site only directs visitors to US online booksellers Amazon and Barnes & Noble,  and the American Booksellers Association's BookSense service (recently relaunched as  Indiebound).

Among the 300 titles online in the 'beta' version of Lookybook are backlist titles from reputable publishers like Charlesbridge, Kids Can Press and Chronicle Books.

I've been looking at online 'virtual editions' technology for over a year now. Australia's trade magazine Bookseller+Publisher (of which I was Publisher until May this year), has just followed Publishers Weekly and The Bookseller in publishing an 'e-mag' edition, based on the European Neptune FSI viewer technology (also Flash-based). There are now plenty of similar technologies around.

Interestingly, what people seem to like about the FSI solution was the fact that it closely mimicked reading a 'real' publication, even down to providing the sound of turning pages. I remain to be convinced that people will use such technologies in preference to reading the printed matter, but as way of reaching readers without having to print and distribute more books or magazines, it has exciting potential.

One use of this technology could be to provide online editions of all your Frankfurt samples. A few companies are already creating online editions of their rights catalogues, but why not the books themselves? Nothing's likely to replace the need to quaff 'relationship-building whisky' at the Scottish stand in Hall 8, but having online samples might have saved the blushes of one leading Australian publisher last year, who was obliged to stand in a empty stand on the opening day, as they waited for all their samples to arrive.

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