Virtual reality books are virtually here. Will publishers seize the opportunity?

It’s perhaps a sign of the times, and of the way the centre of digital gravity is shifting in a publishing world once so easily mapped, that the world’s first virtual reality book emerged last year not from Silicone Valley or from South Korea or Japan, but from the deserts of the Middle East.
As Publishing Perspectives reported back in May 2016, the Sharjah Book Authority led the way, with a children’s book that was perhaps more AR (augmented reality) than VR, but was unquestionably a step on the road to a new hybrid publishing format.

Now comes a report this weekend that Facebook will spur VR adoption.

The virtual reality (VR) market needs to address high price points before consumers will begin purchasing devices en masse. Only 30% of consumers would consider spending more than $200 on a VR system (which) falls far short of the average $875 it currently costs for a whole system — including an external power source, controllers, and sensors.

That’s from an email from Business Insider – sadly the details are behind a paywall, but among the freely available key points it was noted that

  • The tension between quality and affordability is one of the main barriers to VR adoption
  • Oculus has taken the first steps to address the cost-prohibitive nature of the VR market, announcing massive price cuts across its entire range of devices
  • A drop in average VR headset price would encourage consumer adoption, creating a virtuous cycle

adding “movies, TV, and live sports are the gateway to VR adoption.”

And let’s not forget books.

As was noted in Publishing Trends  back in February, VR is an immersive sole-user experience, rather like reading a book.

And as Literary Hub noted a year ago in October 2016, VR is in desperate need of real storytellers.

Virtual Reality is still in its infancy, and just what publishers will do with it remains to be seen, but clearly there are opportunities, and not just the spin-off books from the VR games that will soon be everywhere.

Back in November 2015 Gizmodo was describing the New York Times’s VR app as “very, very cool,”  and since then the newspaper industry has been leading the way.

Earlier this year – slightly off-topic but illustrative of how versatile VR is – VR was used to separate conjoined twins.

The Washington Post famously has its own “VR Room” where with just a smartphone and Google cardboard the “stories” come to life.

At the last but one London Book Fair in 2016 VR was a hot topic. In a post on Publishers Weekly Peter Brantley cautioned,

For publishers, it would be a mistake to ignore this new form because it is not booklike. Rather, they should embrace this new medium, and help authors create new works for it.

Well, that hasn’t happened yet, but we’re still in the early stages.

As prices come down, and as 5G internet speeds become the normal, the Internet of Things becomes everyday reality and we start thinking about 6G and the Internet of Everything, so VR will invade every aspect of our lives – including the books we read. And, for authors, the books we write.

Here’s to an exciting future.

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