Who says old books can't be made new again? Certainly not Penguin Classics, which is focused on revitalizing literature that has been available in print for decades and sometimes even centuries. For the imprint's first experimentation with apps, it has created an amplified edition of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which features the text of the 1957 edition of the novel, along with photos, interactive maps, and a detailed history of the author's contemporaries, who he famously dubbed "the beats."
The app, which is available in the iTunes apps store this week at a discounted price of $12.99 before jumping to its standard price of $16.99, joins the three editions of the book Penguin currently has in print—a trade paperback, a Penguin Classics edition, and On the Road: The Original Scroll (which is the unedited first draft of the book that Kerouac typed out on one very lengthy piece of paper).
While various adult Penguin imprints have dabbled in apps, the On the Road app marks what the publisher calls its second "corporate app" after last summer's amplified edition of Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, which went on sale last July 23. On the Road diverges noticeably from the Pillars app, which was heavy with video clips from the Starz miniseries based on the novel. Although director Walter Sayles (The Motorcycle Diaries) recently adapted Road to the screen—a release date for the film, which stars, among others, Kristin Stewart, has not been set, though it is expected to come out this year—reps at Penguin Classics said the movie had nothing to do with their decision to make an app for the book.
Instead, the staff at the imprint worked closely with the Kerouac estate to fill the app with photos, some of which have never been publicly available before, as well as rich details on the backstory of the book. In a section on the publication of the novel, which Penguin believes will be of interest to fans and those who are intrigued about the publishing industry, parts of the original scroll are compared against the final, edited version of the novel, to highlight what Kerouac, in most instances, deleted. This section also includes letters from early readers as well as the house's then publicity director, Patricia McManus, requesting press attention for the author who, at the time, was a relative unknown.
The On the Road app, Penguin said, was created based on what the publisher had on hand—some of the editorial correspondences were taken from a filing cabinet in Viking publisher Paul Slovak's office—and what it could procure from the estate. Done with an outside company, the app, a rep said, was not created as a template for other books, even other Penguin Classics titles. Nonetheless, the treatment, which relies on a select amount of outside content and very little video, does seem to point to a logical way backlist books can live on an interactive platform. The question now is, will readers respond to that interactivity.