Digital Book Developers Discuss the Changing Tide of Storytelling

Book apps give readers another way to experience narratives, from the simplest book for toddlers to more complex offerings by developers such as Touch Press, which are aimed at an older audience. Recently Sam Berman, CEO at Grids Interactive, a company that produces storybook apps for children including The Truly Great Noodle (4.5 stars, PadGadget) gathered fellow developers together to discuss the future of storytelling.

Michel Kripalani, President, Oceanhouse Media; Annie & David Fox, Co-founders, Electric Eggplant; and Melissa Northway, Author, Penelope the Purple Pirate joined Berman to chat about the ways that digital books, as well as their creators and readers, reap the benefits of technological advances, yet remind us that a good story is still what snares the reader.

The forum’s participants uniformly championed iOS as a medium that allows the reader to experience stories, rather than passively consuming them. Berman, goes so far as to champion the digital over printed medium saying,  “If you ever watch a child reading an interactive book application, you will see a deep level of engagement that a printed storybook generally doesn’t elicit.” Despite Berman’s remark, which chafes my inner librarian, the purpose of his discussion is not to tear down printed books, because as any lifelong reader knows, a good story will capture ones imagination regardless of its format.

As a game designer Annie Fox knows how to draw in her users, yet she makes a critical point, “we’re not fans of piling on a bunch of tech bells and whistles just because the software and hardware support it. For us, first and foremost, the story has to stand strong on its own.”

Apps may offer both reluctant readers and children with special needs a new way to engage with storytelling. “One person I spoke to talked about how his special needs son can get around the iPad like there is no tomorrow, but if he puts a piece of paper and pen in front of him, he doesn’t know what to do with it, offers Northway.

The developers agree that because those who publish books as digital media are not beholden to large publishing houses, there will be more opportunity for individuals to self-publish, which ultimately gives consumers access to a broader range of ideas. Berman adds, “I often wonder how many great books or stories the world has missed out on because it didn’t pass some publisher’s litmus test. If one believes in their story, they can now publish, and more importantly market and distribute it, themselves.”

When comparing the advantages of book apps to traditional print books, the developers cite lower price and convenience as additional advantages that digital books have over their paper counterparts.

As consumers, it’s rare to get a chance to listen in to these developers as they share opinions about how their industry is changing, and what this transformation could mean for authors, developers, and readers. To read the discussion in its entirety, visit the GRIDS Interactive blog.

It’s impossible to know what the future holds for the printed page, but it’s definitely part of the cultural zeitgeist. In Gary Shteyngart’s recent novel Super Sad True Love Story the characters inhabit a dystopic world where no one reads and printed books are referred as “doorstops.”  I still hold fast to Emily Dickinson’s assertion that “There is no frigate like a book.” The power of a well-told tale can transport the reader regardless of medium. There is no doubt, however, that digital publishing is revolutionizing how books are consumed, particularly for children.

Printed books aren’t going to disappear, but as readers slowly cede to the convenience of digital reading, much as with MP3s before them, their universality will diminish. I wouldn’t be surprised to find physical books taking on the same type of cult status that vinyl records have, with a small, but zealous, portion of the populace working hard to ensure their continued existence while the rest of us learn to use Overdrive to download library books, or rediscover classics courtesy of mind-bending reinterpretations à la Atomic Antelope’s Alice in New York for iPad.

About Emily: Emily is a freelance writer who loves discovering new apps whenever she can pry the iPad away from her children or husband. You can contact her via Twitter: @whatwentwrite