How can publishers adapt to the new demands of interactive and customisable books? With new players entering the market, a growing new readership and changing reading habits, publishers need to come up with innovative solutions.

Interactive Books, a Concept in Search of a Business Model

New product, new business model. This could well be the motto for publishers just starting out in the field of interactive, multiple-ending and personalised books. This new approach means that new skillsets are required in the publishing chain, resulting in rising costs. ‟The cost of creating an interactive book is still very high, as people with new skills have to be brought in,” explains Florence Rio, Associate Professor of Information and Communication Sciences at the University of Lille in northern France. 

‟The cost of creating an interactive book is still very high, as people with new skills have to be brought in” 

Professor Rio took part in a project called ‘At Werther’s workshop’, a prototype for an ‘augmented’ book – a combination of a tablet and a paper book –  designed to help children find out about the history of printing through Werther’s print workshop. The venture is basically an experiment in collaboration with French publishing house Invenit, French 3ED interactive graphics agency Idées-3com, plus several public bodies. Meanwhile the University of Minho in Portugal has also launched several similar projects, including the Bridging Book, a paper book which, when placed next to a tablet, interacts with your screen.

Startups enter the scene

However, traditional publishers seem to be trying to apply the same business model to interactive book sales as they use for paper books. Two examples – French publishers Nathan and Gallimard Jeunesse – use the ‘collection’ model – i.e. publishing several interactive works one after the other, such as the Dokéo+ collection in augmented reality. Faced with these well-entrenched publishers, startups looking to get into the business need to come up with a different business model. French company Cylapp (an abbreviation for ‘Create Your Lovely App’) provides an online publishing platform for making interactive books for small children, somewhat similar to the Popizz site set up a few years ago. The idea is to enable authors and parents to create detail-rich stories for their children on a tablet. 

Further down the personalisation road, young French company Lost My Name, which recently secured a $9m funding round led by Google Ventures, specialises in creating unique customised paper books. This rather unusual publishing house does not produce collections but instead concentrates on a single story. Parents trigger the story customisation process by entering their child’s name into the startup’s website and then algorithms do the rest, adapting the story to match the letters of the young reader’s name. While using a unique story model, the fledgling firm automates the publishing process, thus avoiding the need for a range of different skillsets – graphicists, designers, illustrators, etc – for each personalised copy.

Augmented reading: the public seems ready

However, as soon as you start talking about interactive books, one question immediately arises: are readers ready for this new approach to the written word? The latest global report from SNE, the French National Publishers Association, reveals that, overall, French readers do now welcome interactive books. According to a survey carried out in conjunction with market research specialist TNS-Sofres, between 2011 and 2014 the percentage of French mathematics teachers using digital and multimedia course books rose from 25% to 46%. The same survey shows however that interactive course books are mainly used by students in groups, as schools still find such materials very expensive to buy.

71% of all tablet owners read e-books, according to a SNE/TNS-Sofres survey

Nevertheless, fully 71% of French tablet owners now read e-books and reading audiences that are already used to reading on their tablets are almost certainly ready to switch to interactive books. For the moment, however, the vast majority of interactive books are designed for children, with the exception of such initiatives as the Récits d’objets (‘Stories behind the items’) app produced by French publisher Invenit for the purpose of offering visitors to the Musée des Confluences science centre and anthropology museum in the French city of Lyon stories about the various items exhibited. Perhaps this type of interactive story could be extended beyond purely local projects and take in a wider audience.Le projet récit d'objet

By Guillaume Scifo