Developing the Book into a Digital Application

Last week at B&H, we released two new apps: What Women Fear by Angie Smith and 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son by Vicki Courtney. They are a part of a continuing strategy for us: intentionally developing the future of a book. These apps are avaialble for free to download, with all the features fully enabled and select sample chapters from the book content (the remaining chapters can be unlocked via an in-app purchase).

Let's be honest; reading a book digitally is different than reading one physically. There are natural things they you are compelled to do when you pick up a book from the shelf at a Barnes & Noble. You:


  • look at the back cover
  • fan the pages
  • scan the words to see if anything jumps out at you
  • feel the weight of the book
  • smell it


None of these things can happen with a digital book. Most reading software is trying to shoehorn physical book activities into the digital format... and failing. The point of writing notes is to have it right there with the text, not to have it hidden behind an icon. I carry a book around to show off the cover and start conversations with my peers - now the conversation is more about whether you're using a Kindle or an iPad and not about the book you're actually reading. A book is an escape from reality; digital connectivity brings you tons of messages through your social spaces.

So what would the book experience look like if we instead embraced the things that make the digital experience different from a physical experience?


The Reader

At their core, the content of the books need to be available. All that requires a basic reader; we have that. And, with each iteration in this series of apps, we continue to refine and rebuild it. That's one of the beautiful things about working in this digital environment - once the book app is released to the public, it's not neccessarily "done." The content is complete, but we can keep on improving everything surrounding and enhancing the content. And we will.

So for these apps, the actual reader we've built is not the star - there's currently only so much you can do with a reader. As the technology gets better and more intuitive we'll add things, but for now it's just a basic reader... kind of like getting the physical book printed on basic paper. It just works.

Quotes and Sharing

The real star of our apps, in my opinion, is that we give you a glimpse into the book's content in a truly digital way. Instead of flipping through pages of the book on the shelf, we provide quotes of the core content in the books. For What Women Fear it's quotes lifted directly from the book; for 5 Conversations it's questions to ask your son inspired by the content of the book. You can't easily flip through pages, but you can quick scroll and scan through the book's concepts and message in this way.

Additionally, we've made these quotes sharable, creating easy links to post them on Twitter, copy them to a Facebook post, or email them to a friend. It's a quick and easy way to share the author's thoughts with your own friend group. Maybe you can't carry the digital book under your arm, but you can show it off on your wall.

A World of Content, Not Just the Book's Content

 Remember looking on the back cover of a book to get a sense of who the author is? Maybe there will be a photo of the author and, if they have written enough books, maybe you'll get to find out some other books to look into. Sure, we have that in the apps, but why stop there?

Most authors aren't just book authors - they are prolific writers or engaging speakers. They have blogs, they speak at event, they tweet - in other words, they are just plain awesome. So why stop with a static bio when, on a digital platform, you can get everything about the author delivered right to you. We pull in their blog feeds, their twitter feeds, and even a calendar of any upcoming public engagements they have. The point is, through the digital platform, there is more to the book experience than just the content of the book - there is a world of content that the author is creating that's brought to your finger tips fresh and updated, everytime you open the app.

And this is just the beginning...

This execution of developing the right digital experience for a book is only just now reaching you through the apps we have released. Getting to this point took quite a bit of experimenting, design, and code. But now that we have these basics down, we have some really cool stuff coming. Stuff I can't tell you about yet! We literally already have more than a year's worth of concepts and ideas just waiting to be built and connected to the right book content.

And, like I said before, these apps have the ability to be updated. What you see now might not be what you see in two months, six months, or maybe even two years from now. So long as people are engaging with the content, of course we'll continue building upon the platform.

And one of the enhancements we've got coming really is quite cool... it's been in the works for several months now. I know, I'm doing that teasing thing... I'm sure we'll get to discuss it someday.

What do you want?

Think out of the box for a minue, get on your high horse, share your ideas... get your mind away from replicating physical book traits in a digital form and think differently: how can book content be enhanced through a digital platform? What concepts and features would you love to see added to our app experiences?