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?

In which I briefly talk about the Resurrection iWitness iPad app

I have to admit: I love my job.

Being the Digital Marketing Manager for B&H Publishing Group means that I get to be in really cool meetings and get to help make decisions that, honestly, are helping to shape the future of the publishing industry.

B&H has made the commitment to utilizing technological advancements to help support and distribute our content so that a world that is becoming native to technology across all generations can consume our author's thoughts, messages, and stories in whatever way they prefer.  This means that I've gotten to be a part of the digital revolution at B&H distributing digital versions of our books to various vendors, putting the Bible on the XBOX, developing a resource tool like MyStudyBible.com, and helping create new experiences on mobile devices like the iPad.

A few months ago, when the idea of the Resurrection iWitness came to us, we saw the potential for this right away.  This app would truly be a new way to interact with content; a digitally tactile way of exploring content.  Even as I saw the concept and vision clearly, it's not until you get something completed and out into the world that it really starts to take hold.

The Resurrection iWitness experience connects with me in a way that I don't think any of our other B&H products really have.  There's something "magical" about the way you get to interact with the content, skipping over the pieces that don't interest you and opening up the content that grabs your thoughts.

The app takes you on a journey where you become an investigator, exploring for yourself the ideas of scholars and theorists trying to make sense of the events surrounding Jesus Christ's death and appearance after.  What are the real possibilities and facts of the time?  If we strip away our preconceptions and our bias, what would we really choose to believe?

The experience leads you down a journey that for many - myself included - can only serve to expand your worldview.  With quotes from extra-Biblical sources, including teh Qu'ran, it's not a light journey.  But the experience is so natural and so compelling that it helps people learn from their own investigation in just a few minutes.

Yes, I'm biased - I'll readily admit that.  But this app really is that special and I really am that proud to have been a part of its release.  If you've gotten the chance to try out the app, please don't be afraid to let me/us know what you think; I would absolutely love some feedback.

And yes, I'm very proud and excited about this app; but man, I love my job.  We've got some very, very cool things coming down the pike!  Argh - can't wait to be able to talk about it all!

My First Published Comic: John B. Olson's Powers

Somehow... I forgot to blog about this.

Back in early 2010, B&H Publishing Group published a comic book adaptation of John B. Olson's Powers - an incredible fiction novel (I'm not just saying that; I don't read much Christian fiction but this was well worth the read).  The intent of the graphic novel was promotional, the idea being to give people a taste of the novel quickly (comics read faster than novels), so they can get a glimpse into the story before they purchase the book.

It just so happens the comic book adaptation was written by me and illustrated by M. Daily Walden. Check it out and let me know what you think of my first officially published comic book.  I may even have a few physical copies laying around, if paper is your thing. 

John B. Olson's Powers: Graphic Novel

 If you like what you see and read, the full novel is currently available on Amazon.com for $6 - this book is definitely worth at least that much!

A Gamer's FAQ to Bible Navigator X

On Tuesday, LifeWay announced the development of Bible Navigator X for the XBOX 360, via the Indie Games Channel and XNA.  In the next few weeks we'll be talking more about the application on HCSB.org and BibleNavigatorX.com but, since a lot of the gaming sites have picked up the news, I wanted to be able to answer some questions specifically for you. 1) Why only the XBOX 360? B&H is producing this via the XBOX Live Indie Games channel; the other consoles and handhelds don't offer a similar toolset.  While we would be interested in developing for those platforms, the opportunities simply aren't there right now for us. 2) What is the HCSB? HCSB stands for the Holman Christian Standard Bible.  It's one of the most modern transalations, and one of only two Bible translations (the other is the NET Bible) to have been done utilizing computers.  It's a cross-denomination translation, with 17 denominations represented on its translation team.  You can learn more at HCSB.org. 3) What does the 'X' stand for? B&H already has a product called Bible Navigator for the PC.  We wanted to keep the name of the product line and, since this is currently and XBOX-only project it seemed fairly obvious to call it Bible Navigator X. 4) Will I need a patch to read the text in SD? Nope; we'll let you control the font size on Day 1.  That's a part of the nuts and bolts of our app.  ;-) 5) Will there be Achievements or DLC? Sorry, but unfortunately no.  Those features aren't available on Indie Games.
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Bible Navigator X: Fulfilling a Dream

As cheesy as it sounds: I love my job. There are goals that you set for yourself in life that you hope to attain, and there are goals that you put before yourself that you place there for the sheer audicity of it all, knowing that it's not something that will ever happen.  Like flying to the moon, adopting a pet dragon, or helping to put the very words of God into a medium that it's never been in before. Today my team announced that we will be bringing the HCSB translation of the Bible to the Xbox via Bible Navigator X.  This has been a dream of mine for since the XBOX 360 launched and they announced that there would be downloadable games.  Way back when it first came out, in 2005, I managed to actually get someone on the phone at Microsoft to see if we could partner with them to make something happen.  At the time, there was simply no way to make it work within their ecosystem... especially since it wouldn't be a game. So, fast forward 4 years, and God somehow places me in the book publishing division of LifeWay, where we publish the Bible.  And, not only that, but B&H is an honest-to-goodness inovator in the digital publishing space and, even in this economy, is willing to take financial risks if it means spreading the Good News of Christ.  So, when I asked if we could explore putting the Bible on the XBOX, my coworkers and boss actually said "yes." So, to begin my quest of making it happen, I posted out to a game developer's forum asking how I might connect with someone to freelance a project.  Lo and behold, I was found by Andy Dunn - a fairly well known developer in the XBOX community.  Someone whose stuff I read back in the day when I was trying to code my own XBOX wares. Andy and I struck up a conversation, outlined what the application would look like, and we went to town.  His wisdom was, quite honestly, astounding.  I've learned more about the game/app development process from him than I ever expected to know.  But there was still that nervousness... is this really going to work? If you've got a dream, you'll have spent hours thinking about it in your head, hoping that some day the reality might be even a sliver of that dream.  In these past few weeks, as Andy has dropped a build to me every few days, it has almost freaked me out.  This is the very first version of Bible Navigator X, our first go at putting this most sacred content onto a video game system... and it work with the medium so perfectly.  It feels natural and nice; like the XBOX was made to host the Bible. In short, reality suprassed what I had dreamt up in my head. I feel almost foolish and childlike, gushing about how exciting this is for me and how much I love my job that allows me to see dreams come true.  I have a renewed interest in spreading the Gospel of Christ, now that it's in a medium that my peers can connect with.  I have a brand new level  of respect for the scholars and wise men who translated the Greek and Hebrew into what we call the HCSB translation... and the programmers and developers who translated that into XML and code. And, I'm not trying to wax philosophically here... I'm just finally able to get out words that I've had to keep secret for so long, I feel like a huge burden has been lifted.  It's not every day that you get to be aware of being a part of God's plan.  It's not every day that you know your actions could - litearlly - impact millions.  This is one of those things that I'll tell my children about, and I will tell their grandchildren, and so on and - hopefully - so on. Excited.  That's how I feel.  I hope you didn't mind my shoutting it from the internets.
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Sunday School in HD: Video Shoot

originally published on the B&H Staff Blog About a month back I went on my first video shoot with B&H Publishing Group to First Baptist Church of Woodstock in order to film for Sunday School in HD, by Allan Taylor, and Building Your Leadership Resume, by Johnny Hunt. The video shoot went wonderfully well - it was simply incredible to hear the stories of life change coming out of the church and the way they do Sunday School. Here's a little video about my experience even just hearing the stories:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8tgdKlVz-o] You can view the rest of the videos here. Enjoy!
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