In non-fiction, there are simple improvements to be made in the form of links – after all, what is a link but a better version of the footnote? There are also ways to add more content, in much the way that DVD publishers add deleted scenes, director commentary, and other extras to the original movie. Other times, “better” will be defined by making something smaller – at least from the user’s point of view. For example, Google has more data than any print atlas, but the user sees less. Consumption is defined by the user’s particular request: show me where I am now; show what’s around me; show me how to get from where I am to somewhere else. There’s a huge opportunity for books to be reconceived as database-backed applications that show you just what you need to know. Former computer-book publisher Mitch Waite now publishes a fabulous birder’s guide for the iPhone, iBird Pro, demonstrating the power of this model.
Books give people information, entertainment, and education. If publishers focus on how those three elements can be performed better online and through mobile, innovation and business models will follow. If we don’t innovate to do those jobs better for our customers, it’s only a matter of time before someone else steps in.