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  • Appification Nation: Too Big Too Fail?

    What is it with our Nicholas Carr fixation? Authors take note  –  mention us in print and you’re guaranteed Vook blog coverage. Today, I want to call your attention to a piece Mr. Carr wrote for the Nieman Journalism Lab on the coming appification of content. Carr’s predicting that newspapers in 2024 will monetize and engage readers increasingly through apps. It’s an area we’ve been thinking about as we find more and more content holders getting interested in eBooks.

    Mr. Carr’s piece offers an apparently safe thesis—newspapers have profited from great apps. But when it comes to content delivery, the details are thorny.

    Carr writes, “What’s an app store but a series of paywalls?” Well, it’s also, crucially, a marketplace you can only tap with the help of developers and one that imposes checkpoints and tech requirements that can be difficult to accomodate. Essentially:

    1. A native app is expensive to build – if you really want to get it right
    2. Content updating in apps can be difficult to maintain through a CMS
    3. Updating and version changes = major headaches

    expensive-iphone-appsCMS solutions for appstore delivery exist — and we love the work from Mag+, Adobe and others — and it does seem many newspapers already have an app. But production difficulties aside, the appstore also represents the centraliziation and primacy of a few big brands. A good example might be apps for local public radio stations  – many NPR and PRI affiliates have an app, but after my cursory survey of a selection, I’d be  surprised if any of them, or even all of them combined, approached the traction of the excellent NPR flagship app.

    Jason Baptiste at OnSwipe would probably say we’re being too moderate in our perspective, but HTML 5 Web experiences also have a ways to go. They remain slow, clunky to load, and it can be hard for them to handle more complicated content.

    So is there a solution? Probably long term a Web-based experience independent of native app confines — like Baptiste’s OnSwipe. In the interim, newspapers and news related content holders should look at monetizing their content across a spectrum of platforms, including eBooks.

    Appification is going to help, but it’s still a hard way to make money (see: the Daily). The Project Triangle states that of the qualities Fast, Cheap and Good you must pick two. I’d tweak it and say the App Project Triangle is Slow, Expensive and Good. If you want Good, you pretty much have to take the other two as well.


    While listening to an audiobook version of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, our engineer Amanuel was surprised to hear Carr discuss Simon & Schuster’s creation of “vooks”. I’m familiar with Carr’s proposition that the Internet may be dimming our cognition, wrecking our attention span and making us stupid. I hadn’t planned to read the book—like anyone, I don’t want to hear my favorite thing might be bad for me.

    But once I found out we were mentioned? To Amazon!

    Two things interested me about the book and how it came to my attention. One, I was recommended the title by someone who heard the book in audio form–they didn’t read it or encounter it as text on a page. It’s not the ideal way I think Carr wants his book digested. Reading, particularly deep reading, is key to him. Second, I immediately went and purchased the digital version of The Shallows, opened the book in the Kindle Reader for iPad, searched “vook” with the search function, and rocketed directly to the two references (Location 1829) that we merit.

    This is why digital is so great. And this is exactly the kind of thing that drives Carr nuts.

    Buying a book about the shallowness of digital culture to then search the name of your own company digitally and zip right to the paragraphs that mention it is such a perfect representation of Carr’s thesis in action that I wish Carr would make an exception for multi-media and include a video in his book of this instance, because, presto — point made.

    The second word I searched after “vook” was “Ambrose.” Why? Amanuel’s experience of hearing the book and Carr’s further writing — I read some pages after our namecheck — reminded me of St. Augustine encountering St. Ambrose reading to himself in silence. As Augustine writes in the Confessions, “his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.” The encounter seems revelatory for Augustine, and implies that most people at that time read aloud. I’ve always liked that passage — to me it represents the moment when one of my favorite activities – ie, quiet reading that blocks out the world — made its first, or at least most eloquently recorded, appearance.

    I like that we’re referenced in a book about the shallowness of the Internet, but I relish the irony that in my own life, at least, the digital age, in fact, my experiences at Vook itself, have only pulled me further away from the short attention span theatre of movies, television etc, and plunged me so far into books that it’s a cause of lament for those close to me. It’s worse with my father, who often maneuvers around his kitchen with an iPhone held in front of him, reading novel after novel.

    What’s my point? That I’m glad I read some of this book. I think I can assure Carr. Digital may become “a recording of chatter”, but it’s always going to be a recording of the exceptional too. What do I, Augustine, Amanuel, my father, and Ambrose have in common? We want to escape into a book. We want to get out of this world. Technology is only making the avenue of escape more immediately available. Carr shouldn’t be concerned that the computer’s “ecology of interruption technologies” is going to spaz us out, he should instead detail how its capacity to enchant at the drop of a hat is going to create a society of iOS enabled Byzantine recluses.

    I can imagine Augustine if he’d chanced on Ambrose with a temporally displaced iPad, “his finger sought out the meaning of the page, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. And his heart was at peace!”

    Matthew Cavnar

    ePublishing Made Easy

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