Books as apps is so 2007.

Last week, Smashwords announced that they would automatically convert “premium catalog” books into standalone apps for mobile1 devices.

To me, that just seems so 2007.

Seriously. It was a cool thing when pioneers like Mike Stackpole were offering books as apps – because that’s all that was available at the time. Now, everyone I’ve talked to who has an smartphone2 falls into one of these two categories:

1. They do not read books on their smartphone/device.
2. They read books on them devices, but through dedicated stores and readers – iBooks, Kindle, or nook apps.

That’s it.

I can see where bundling your individual novel into an app can (possibly) get authors more money – but that would be served just as well by having the readers buy eBooks from the author’s website and cutting out Smashwords. But readers don’t seem to be hustling to do that – or for that matter, they also seem to be unaware of Smashwords3. Customers seem aware of the markets they already know. If they’re used to the iBookstore, they keep going to it. If they got a Kindle, they stay with Amazon, and if they have a nook, they stay with B&N. Those who are already reading already have a way to get books, and I suspect are not going to be impressed by yet another way to get books on an iOS device. (Especially if it’s not portable back and forth to their nook, Kindle, or main computer.)

The only other point I can think of for making this move is to try to bring in new readers, or to introduce the concept of reading on the smartphone… which, honestly, I don’t get either. Convincing people to try eInk is one thing – it’s qualitatively different than reading off of a screen. If they’re already intrigued, the nook & kindle apps are, um, free.

It’s not that I wish Smashwords ill; while I have problems with their business model, they’re far better than most of the other aggregators that actively swindle authors. I am, however, skeptical that this new development actually has any value other than the “cool” factor4. It’s spiffy… but spiffy isn’t going to pay your mortgage. Selling books – digital or otherwise – will.

I’m not convinced there’s a market for selling books as individual apps… except among the aggregators and distributors. Maybe I’m wrong, and if you’re already into the Smashwords way of doing things, there’s no reason to opt out. But promoting it as a reason to go to Smashwords?

I don’t think so.

1 To quote their announcement: “Smashwords announced a distribution agreement with ScrollMotion today that will make Smashwords Premium Catalog ebooks available for sale as single-book apps in the major app marketplaces including Apple, Android, Windows Phone 7 and HP’s WebOS.”
2 No statistical sampling, though I did bother random people with iOS devices
3 In my experience, the people talking about Smashwords are either the converts and cheerleaders, or those who are asking questions because they’ve heard the first group. (Also not a random sample.)
4 Because technically and from a geek point of view, it is pretty cool.