Digital Enhancement: Bringing Multimedia to Book Readers

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Kelly Leonard is a member of the Digital Book Awards panel of judges. The 2014 Digital Book Awards (formerly known as the Publishing Innovation Awards) are now open for nominations. If you’re involved with some excellent digital work going on in publishing, consider entering the Digital Book Awards today. Deadline for entry: October 1, 2013


Some film and TV producers are taking advantage of viewers’ second-screen habits by creating layers of related enhanced content and inviting readers to participate while they watch. For their part, book publishers understand the appeal of multimedia. What is working today to capture consumers’ attention in a fragmented entertainment world?

“In a world….” Cue movie-trailer voiceover of actor/writer/director Lake Bell’s quirky, award-winning indie film of the same name. Now picture yourself sitting in a darkened movie theater, the last bastion of immersive single-screen entertainment, where you’re asked to silence your smart phone before the picture starts and no texting during the movie.

Cut to Sunday night cable TV when a new episode of “Breaking Bad” is about to air. You’re encouraged to “go to AMC’s Story Sync now” to “join fellow fans for snap polls, cool trivia, and exclusive video while watching the premiere broadcast of the latest episode on-air.” You’re about to enter a world of two-screen media consumption not allowed in movie or Broadway theaters but encouraged at home in private living rooms.

How much multimedia interaction from entertainment creators works for book readers and viewers? Two stories illustrate a difference.

AMC-Story-SyncFeeding the Engaged Viewer or Reader
AMC launched Story Sync in February 2012 for “The Walking Dead” to catch a wave of two-screen viewing created organically by fans using Twitter and the hashtag #walkingdead, AMC was betting that interactive TV content was something fans would want. The entertainment industry recognized AMC’s innovation with Variety’s Entertainment App Award for Best Second Screen TV App and the 2012 Social TV Awards for Best Mobile phone, iPad or Tablet Social TV Application.

When a book release is not tied directly into a TV or film property, book publishers are increasingly competing for consumer attention and discretionary spending against these bigger multimedia production values and deeper advertising pockets. Publishers have experimented with enhanced e-books, e-reading apps, and gamification to try to capture multimedia/multi-screen consumers who may or may not be regular book buyers and readers.

iPhone-app-Night-Film-decoderSimultaneous with the recent publication of Night Film by award-winning author Marisha Pessl (Special Topics in Calamity Physics), Random House released the Night Film Decoder app. The app works with smart phone cameras and unlocks extra content for readers. The functionality is similar to a QR code scan, but much prettier and more rewarding.

Giving the Reader More Options
But in both p- and e-book formats, availability of the Decoder app is touted not before Night Film’s Prologue, but at the very end of the book, just before the Acknowledgments page. Contrast this with AMC’s approach with Story Sync, telling viewers, before the show begins, to go to Story Sync, not after the show is over.

night_film_coverNight Film is already non-linear storytelling, in that the narrative is peppered throughout with faux news articles, photographs, and archives. Some of the graphical elements include a bird image (which in and of itself feels like a wink for “Portlandia” fans – “Put a bird on it!”) that may hold clues and more content to unlock via the decoder app. The experience of using the app when reading the book, while a bit distracting, like AMC’s Story Sync, adds a heightened degree of entertainment value. Other readers may prefer to experiment with the app after finishing the book to extend the reading experience.

The difference between what publishers are offering readers, and what cable TV is offering its viewers, is more choice: The choice to access and engage with the extra content at any time during the experience; it’s your call. And isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day – to choose our own way?

In the meantime, please silence your smart phone and no texting during the movie.


Related: Creative Professionals Bring Digital Enhancements to Life showcases the work of one of the many creative professionals behind the multimedia Night Film experience.


The Digital Book Awards celebrate innovation in educational apps and ebook publishing. Submit your nominations today!

4 thoughts on “Digital Enhancement: Bringing Multimedia to Book Readers

  1. Pingback: Publishing Opinions | Digital Enhancement: Bringing Multimedia to Book Readers

  2. Linton Robinson

    This reinforces what I’ve been saying about multi-media, interactive “books” all along. After an initial, early, infatuation with tossing videos and flying tag clouds into novels, I realized that the further publishers go down this road (and readers follow, which they haven’t shown much sign of doing) the more books will end up becoming indistinguishable from–and competition for–digital games. And if book publishers end up competing in this field with game publishers they will LOSE. Because the gamer industry has been at it longer, is better at it, and is not a dysfunctional industry weighted down with “legacy” deadwood and wrong-headedness.
    Somebody could make a case for, and bewail, the diffusion of books into eNtertainment, but I’d say the biggest problem is financial/marketing. Instead of trying to get book customers hooked on game-like packages, it would probably be better expending work and money to keep them separate.

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