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If you were to do a Twitter search on the word ‘publishing’ you might see that there’s a lot of chat on there at the moment about apps and whether they are the future of the industry.  In March, Forbes said we were at the dawn of the tablet era  which was leading publishers to look at enhanced eBooks and the like.  Fastforward to last weekend, when Vicki Hartley wrote on the Future Bookseller that the death of publishing has been greatly exaggerated, and that apps are here to save it.

A lot of good app work is being done in the world of children’s books, I gather – although my own experience in that department is a solitary tale of unimaginable woe.  But you don’t want to hear about that…

So yeah, I downloaded an interactive Moomin storybook app that promised it would read to me and have animated illustrations.  Unfortunately the blog post I read about it contained duff information on the subject of compatibility, and it doesn’t work on my phone (which is a couple of years old and therefore apparently past it).  When I tap the screen it goes to the front cover of the book, then taunts me with trills of birdsong.  I guess maybe there are birds in the story, but I can’t find out for sure unless I upgrade my phone.

This is the extent of my children’s book app research, so I can’t offer much insight into the magical things that are currently being done.  Although if someone wants to give me an iPad, I’ll obviously conduct more stringent experiments.

But right there you have the problem with the notion that apps will save children’s publishing – the apparatus you need to access them.  A tablet computer is expensive, so whilst you can do fantastic, wonderful, interactive things with them to encourage children to read and imagine and develop, they aren’t exactly available to all.  You can’t go to the library to borrow an iPad – not my local branch, anyway – and I think that technological dawn is some way off.

I genuinely don’t want to be negative, because I think it’s brilliant that publishers are beginning to embrace eBooks and they should absolutely be using the technology to develop the reading experience in every way possible.  But based on my experience of working within the library service, there’s a whole desktop area you want to be looking at before charging ahead with apps for android and iProducts.

In my experience, it is already harder to get kids from poorer backgrounds reading things that aren’t Bebo or instructions on a computer game than it is to get middle class ones doing so.  I once took a group of kids to a bookshop as part of a reading initiative we were running and found that several had never been in a bookshop in their lives, and couldn’t get their heads round the fact they didn’t have to get their book stamped and brought back in 3 weeks.   

Most of these kids only came to the library at all to use games consoles and computers, sometimes to do craft activities.  The ultimate aim of staff would be to point them in the direction of the bookshelves, but it was a bit hit and miss.  I lost count of the number of kids that told me, whilst sitting on the counter changing the date stamp to read 53rd November 1865, that reading is boring and geeky and they’re only even in here cause it’s raining by the way.

I can’t help thinking that if these kids did have a tablet computer in the house, Angry Birds would take precedent over eBook apps.  Having said that, if someone could develop a Farmville style Facebook game that was a reading app in disguise, that’d be fantastic.  Ditto a PS3 game incorporating football and reading – but it’d have to contain the Fifa branding and be advertised by Fernando Torres or someone in order to trick kids into giving it a go.  I’m not sure how you’d pay the author, particularly for the former, but in terms of reader development it’d be amazing.

What I think I’m saying is publishers, keep up the good work.  And then some.

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