The world’s biggest coffee-table book

This is a terrific interview conducted by Robert Scoble with Jean-Marie Hullot, who was once CTO of NeXT and later played significant roles in Apple. The peg for the talk was the launch of Jean-Marie’s remarkable iPhone/iPad App, called Fotopedia Heritage, which is an endless stream of CreativeCommons images of UNESCO World Heritage sites wrapped up in an information stream.

The App itself is amazing (and freely downloadable from the Apps store), but the really significant thing about it is its hint at how our concept of ‘book’ will have to shift to adjust to the possibilities of this new technology. At one stage in the interview, Jean-Marie makes the point that what will determine whether a publisher succeeds in this new medium is whether he/she can master the software. He uses the analogy of Nokia in this context — great maker of hardware, but always an outsourcer of software. Then one day Apple — a master of software — appears on the scene, quickly picks up the easy stuff (the hardware design) and — Bingo! The moral is clear: publishers who think that their only role is to get passive content out the door in readable form aren’t going to cut it in the eBook world.

And while we’re on the subject of eBooks, I see that Apple has released an update to iWork that enables it to output in ePub format.

Actually, this is part of a big and interesting story. Up to now, print publishers have been able to stand by and watch the Net play disruptive havoc with the music and movie industries. Now, it’s their turn to feel the network’s disruptive blast. In that context, author’s agent Andrew ‘the Jackal’ Wylie’s audacious move to strike a deal directly with Amazon for his authors, bypassing their print publishers entirely, has really concentrated minds. As the Guardian observed:

Once upon a time publishers were the only ones who could find authors, edit manuscripts, print books and distribute them, but new technology from desktop computers to the internet has thrown the doors wide open. As marketing departments have gained the ascendancy over editorial, agents have moved centre stage, filtering submissions and polishing manuscripts. With the messy business of ink and trees and Transit vans receding, Wylie’s latest move is simply the logical next step. None of this will worry those publishers who have made a business out of finding the voices others haven’t spotted, but in the week when Amazon claimed that ebook sales passed those of hardbacks the questions are unavoidable: who needs big publishers? Are the interests of writers and readers best served by big publishers, or the Jackal?

And while we’re on the subject, my friend and colleague Michael Dales has a fascinating blog post about his experiments with Kindle and iBooks versions of Scott Pilgrim books.