Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Fully digital reading experiences remain an exception, not the rule. Yet readers of all stripes are inclined to go digital—Google it!—when searching for resource material or expanded second-screen-style media experiences.
To mitigate the disconnect between the printed book and relevant digital content, publishers are exploring ways to connect readers with adjacent content. Digimark’s watermark technology is making print cookbooks interactive, as Pub Perspectives reported this week. And, education technology is getting in the game too. Pearson’s just announced an app that works in conjunction its printed textbooks.
For some time now, Digimark and other augmented reality companies like Blippar and Netpage have been making print magazines digitally interactive. Can ebooks be thoughtfully improved in similar ways to give digital readers non-intrusive, author-curated content that’s ready to be browsed just beneath the surface?
Sherisse Hawkins, CEO of the e-publishing startup Beneath the Ink, thinks so.
Previously, Hawkins was the VP of software development at Time Warner cable and a Senior Engineer for Walt Disney Imagineering. She has expertise in product development and has successfully managed high tech teams developing innovative products. Hawkins loves technology and believes that creativity is the highest form of human intelligence. She’s passionate about making products that people love.
DBW spoke with Hawkins to find out just how the team of readers and technologists at Beneath the Ink are influencing the future of digital book publishing.
Deanna Utroske: You’ve described Beneath the Ink as a happy medium between text-under-glass ebooks and a multi-media frenzy. Describe the company and explain that notion further.
Sherisse Hawkins: Beneath the Ink was created to satisfy every reader’s curiosity. We push the limits of what is possible within ebooks, knowing that their full potential has yet to be unlocked.
Our research shows that authors and readers want to connect more through digital content. We make this connection effortless.
The Beneath the Ink author portal supports any content you require – images, prose, commentaries, maps, and even audio or video files. Our service is accessible by any author, and the process is incredibly fast and simple. The most important distinction is that readers have a CHOICE on when (or if) to access the additional material. It’s simply tucked beneath the ink waiting for them, and does not require the reader ever leave the page or be connected to wifi.
Shhhh…we’re also working on few new things including a “living” digital jacket flap, Bink analytics, and a clever way for readers to request more info from authors.
DU: Talk more about the vision Beneath the Ink has for ebooks.
SH: Books are the last entertainment medium to be revolutionized by digital technology.
Sitting down with your favorite author to pick their brain about their books is an incredible opportunity that not many people get. We want to make this experience possible by giving authors a medium for sharing the insights, experiences and thoughts that lead to the creation of their book; the “authors cut” if you will.
DU: The subtlety of adjacent content is important to you. How has that influenced the Beneath the Ink platform?
SH: One of the major pain points for authors who want to add rich media content to their books is going through the legal processes to obtain rights for that content. Beneath The Ink is seamlessly integrating our author portal with partner APIs, and taking care of all the legal fluff. So authors will have a worry-free one-stop-shop for all of their adjacent content needs.
Also in many cases less is more. Our focus group testers told us they want to be glad they opened each Bink, so the content has to be a good fit, it’s not about trying to find 5 or 10 words or phases to “illuminate” on every page.
DU: And, what’s a Bink?
SH: A Bink is literally a “Beneath The Ink Link”: a word or phrase that has additional information added by the author underneath it. To access a Bink a reader simply taps the word (which glows on the page) and an inline split will open to display the content. The content includes things like: image galleries,maps, recipes, timeline, character map, etymology, etc.
DU: You’ve discovered a lot over the past year by conducting focus groups. What ideas have you gained and what lessons learned?
SH: We believe in talking to people and getting feedback on the product.
Holding frequent focus groups and subscribing to the agile development philosophy allows us to try a bunch of stuff out quickly, see what works and throw out what doesn’t. We have funny stories about stuff that didn’t work on our wall… The main benefit of constant focus-group feedback is learning what content readers really care about and how they want that content to be presented. We can then offer authors the fastest and easiest ways to give this content to their readers through our portal.
DU: Beneath the Ink is in Beta and currently focused on providing a creation service to individual authors. Talk a bit about how the business will expand to include agents, publishers and other partnerships.
SH: The beauty of our Author Portal, is its versatility. The basic features work well with any type of text-rich content, and it can easily be whitelabeled for use in other organizations. We have been pleasantly surprised by all of the interest from publishers, agents and self-publishing companies. We plan to continue growing and building strategic partnerships with companies, as well as getting the word out to indie publishers and authors about what we have to offer.
SH: Right now, the enhanced book industry is saturated with Application versions of books. These costly one-off Apps cannot be accessed through normal book distribution channels (like the iBookstore) and have a very high price point for authors (tens of thousands of dollars up front and/or royalties in the 30-60% region). They also create a more media centric experience, which takes the reader away from the prose of the story.
Beneath The Ink books are still books: they live in the bookstores and sit on your digital bookshelf. We also make sure content is always at the forefront, and the interactivity and enhancements are only there when readers want to know more.