Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Apple's new tablet would mean for writers.

What do you get if you add this :

To this ?

In a moment's time, Apple will probably unveil their next big thing, some sort of tablet PC device. While tablet's are really nothing new and neither would their OS be anything special, I strongly believe that Apple's entrance into the tablet computing will severely change the game for writers and authors in Singapore.

Here is what i think will happen:

Apple will work with several publishers to publish content which is likely to be some sort of an iTunes-like portal for books. What would be new is that, unlike the Kindle, the tablet is a generic device which can also play videos and render books in full color using what is commonly called the ePUB format.

( Acrobat 9 already allows people to author multimedia files of this nature. )

This creates the possibility of new kind of media which will become a new book. Imagine a PDF file which can be distributed as text with some pictures, but with an Internet connection, some publisher will be able to stream music/video or to animate graphs and allow you to attend lectures at the same time. Videos, music and graphical animation then, become the new embedded objects within what was known previously as a book.

This is the killer app of 2010.

This has the potential to resolve piracy issues arising from the copying of books. Suppose we distribute these media files with the text for free but paid subscribers can asssess videos from a page, we will only need to secure the videos and the multimedia to ensure that only customers who pay can get the full amount. While books remain static, videos centrally secured can be always kept up to date. Pirated copies of books with text will only end up being some kind of advertising for the full product which will be rich media that keeps up with the times.

This has serious implications for the publisher of textbooks.

This is a radical shift of power once again to publishing houses because authors in the past can distribute e-books directly to the customer and have higher margins by cutting away the distributors and printers, Now publishers can leverage on their size to get authors to embed lectures and sound into multimedia pages. The richer the media, the higher the barriers to entry to be a writer.

As an author, we will have to take Apple's tablet device seriously, because if we wish to recapture the margins from our information products, we will have to develop skills beyond writing. This means using software like Qik to take a video of us giving our speeches, learning how to create graphs which move and slide (anyone tried learning the Mundell-Fleming model without animation can confirm how hard this endeavour is).

As I embarked on my third book, I remembered that I had to pick up cover design, desktop publishing in addition to word processing. In the future, I see myself doing public speaking all over again to win over a generation of new readers and have to pick up the skills of an animator to boot. If I outsource the work to someone else, I may create a media product which is priced too higher for the discerning reader.

In the world of Apple, only renaissance men can become successful writers.

This is what people call progress.


  1. Thanks. Linked under, 'Tech'.

  2. Wai Chung,

    I think your ebook can be retired already..and kindle is dead..