Facebook and the Future of Digital Publishing

The acquisition of Push Pop Press, an e-book design company, could affect the future of digital books

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Yesterday Facebook bought up an e-book design company, Push Pop Press, the company announced on its site. The acquisition of the digital reader company, known for its interactive version of Al Gore's book Our Choice, doesn't necessarily signal that the social network plans to branch out into the virtual reading space--often, Facebook snatches innovative companies for their talented staffs, explains Bits Blogs Nick Bilton. "Facebook could have chosen to buy Push Pop Press to swoop up a talented team of designers and programmers." But maybe this time Facebook has books on the brain. And, even if they don't, the integration of an e-book company into Facebook shows where publishing is headed.

Facebook proclaimed that it doesn't want to get into the e-book publishing biz. "Although Facebook isn’t planning to start publishing digital books, the ideas and technology behind Push Pop Press will be integrated with Facebook, giving people even richer ways to share their stories," Facebook explained in a press release about the acquisition. But Bilton doesn't buy their PR-speak. "That could be a good use of Push Pop. But there is reason for some skepticism. Facebook has made it apparent over the last few years that it is not just a social network, but an entertainment distributor, too." Facebook already acts as a gaming platform and experimented with streaming video in partnership with Warner Brothers--digital books could be next.

But even if Facebook did get into reads, as a publishing platform, it wouldn't look like the book publishers or the Facebook of today. First, it couldn't integrate book creating into its interface with its current design, which has simple yet not very creative ways to upload content. (Think: Facebook's photos section.) But, with this latest acquisition, Facebook could get more creative explains The Guardian's Jemima Kiss.

If Facebook could start to get serious about an interface that provided creative tools, from ecard makers and light video editing for consumers to a customisable, magazine-style layout for professional publishers. Think of a Storify-style interface even.... With expertise like Push Pop Press coming on board, significant foundations for public-facing journalists' pages described as 'a social newspaper' already established, and a vast global audience... publishers shouldn't take this one lying down. 

It would look more like a Storify-style interface, and less like a standalone e-book, guesses Kiss.

But will Facebook use this opportunity to move book publishing into a whole new innovative sphere? They'll probably do just the opposite by buying up an innovative firm and using its talents for some other project, laments Wired's Tim Carmody. "So instead of an independent born-digital press, publishing next-generation multimedia novels (or magazines or textbooks or children's books or cookbooks), Facebook will probably get marginally better iOS apps."

For any innovation in the field, small creative companies like Push Pop Press need to keep on trying new things, argues Carmody. "We need talented people who are willing to try things. Meanwhile, all of the money, attention and technological skill is marching in the opposite direction. Most big media companies with plenty of capital and deep technical talent see few if any reasons to innovate or invest in books." While we might not see e-books or magazines come out of Facebook anytime soon, a big media company, like Facebook, taking note of a small book publishing company definitely means something for the future of digital media--even if it's just prettier Facebook apps.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.