Radical future for book publishing
Brian Brady

IT is the plaything that is far too precious to be wasted on children. Until now.

In a few short months on the market, the iPad has become the gadget of choice for many adults, with its Internet access, film and music player and, above all, its "game-changing" ebook reader. Owners of iPads have been downloading new books at a rate of almost 77,000 a day—and manufacturer Apple already claims the device has won more than a fifth of the ebook market.

But now their children—and savvy publishers—are getting in on the act. Every major publisher of children’s books is developing its titles for the iPad format, enabling children to access their picture books on screen. But, while adults are content with being able to turn pages on their electronic devices, publishers believe younger readers will demand high-quality graphics, traditional technology—including "lift-the-flap"—and interactive applications.

The result is a shift that could revolutionise the way children learn to read and appreciate books—and not always for the better. One publishing executive admitted last week that she feared many of the best-loved books could become more like films, leaving young readers "more like viewers, rather than active participants in the experience of reading a book".

The first clear signs of the shifting focus emerged last week, when the children’s book Spot Goes to School replaced a Toy Story-themed product as the iPad "app of the week".

Where’s Spot? was the first book to use lift-the-flap 30 years ago and, three decades on, its publisher Penguin claims it is taking advantage of the latest developments in the field. Spot Goes to School retails at `A34.99, while its electronic application is available for `A32.99.

"Ebooks typically retail for lower prices than print titles, which is obviously an incentive to the reader, but in bulk offer certain cost savings to the publisher due to reduction in print, storage and distribution costs," said Mairi Kidd, managing director of Barrington Stoke publishers.

— By arrangement with The Independent