Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
There has been some debate recently regarding the time of death of enhanced ebooks. While the distribution of books has changed enormously over time, from the invention of the printing press to e-readers, tablets and mobile phones, how we read remains much the same as it did 2,000 years ago. Despite frequent and vocal arguments to the contrary, enhanced ebooks still give publishers a chance to disrupt the model, keeping reading relevant for the Twitter and Instagram generation.
Not many people would debate the merits of having video or other enhanced content in nonfiction educational or instructional ebooks. The ability to hear a famous speech while studying history, for example, or watch a golf swing rather than just read about it, has great value. But as J.J. Gadd pointed out in an essay last week, few authors or publishers have managed to enhance works of fiction very meaningfully, in a way that improves not just the entertainment value of reading but also boosts readers’ engagement and retention of text. And still fewer believe there’s a compelling business motivation for doing so.
If enhanced ebooks are to grow beyond their infancy and succeed in the marketplace, there are three points that we need to consider:
- The text must come first.
- The enhanced experience must be consistent.
- The enhanced ebook business model must be viable.
The Text Must Come First
When books went digital, publishers and authors rushed to include new entertainment experiences: games, videos and animation. Unfortunately, these enhancements all distract the reader from the story, pulling them away from the reading experience and disrupting the imaginative process. The most powerful thing about reading fiction is getting lost in the story, allowing you to access parts of your imagination that only reading makes possible. Great enhanced ebooks must find a way to provide the benefits of a relevant enhanced reading experience that still allows the author’s world to take over. In other words, seamlessness is key.
This is something that we at Booktrack have made our focus since day one. Booktrack is not a traditional enhanced ebook platform because it has always offered a smooth, consistent reading experience. It doesn’t take you out of the experience and then try to fit you back in. It is the only enhancement to reading that’s delivered while you read.
The Enhanced Experience Must Be Consistent
When you buy a product, you expect a certain outcome. When you buy an enhanced ebook, you can never be sure of the experience you are going to receive until after the point of purchase. There is no consistency with most enhanced ebook experiences, and this is one of the main contributing factors to the format’s lack of uptake.
To fix this issue, it is important for enhanced ebook publishers to provide platforms and brands that deliver repeatable and consistent results so that readers understand the quality and experience before they purchase. When you buy a Kindle ebook, an Audible audiobook or a Booktrack title, you know the type of experience you are going to get. With other enhanced ebooks, you might be able to preview a sample chapter or watch a video trailer, but you can never be sure of the end experience until after you’ve spent the money.
The Enhanced Ebook Business Model Must Be Viable
Ultimately, neither of the first two considerations matter if they don’t lead to a solid return on investment for authors and publishers.
For enhanced ebooks to succeed, companies need to produce not just bespoke titles, but also complete end-to-end platforms that deliver repeatable and consistent results. They need to open up their creation toolsets for others to use, establishing new, enhanced ebook categories with an existing user base that authors and publishers can reach by creating ebooks for these new categories. This isn’t easy or cheap, which is why most publishers and digital content developers have proved reluctant to do so. But by instituting new enhanced ebook business models, we will bring new readers to the ecosystem and not compete with existing revenue streams.
At Booktrack we have achieved this by opening up our creation tool and distribution platform for all to access free of charge. Authors and publishers can create Booktrack titles and publish instantly to reach a new audience of millions of new readers, such as musicians, audio engineers, music fans and gamers. Reading was once the only mainstream entertainment media without synchronized sound–until Booktrack redefined the genre.
“Blue Sky” Future
The world has changed. We used to read in silence, and only the wealthy owned libraries. Today, you can carry an entire library around in your back pocket, and people regularly read wearing headphones during their morning commutes. We need to adapt and determine how reading can engage a new audience in this modern, multimedia, highly sensory world. Creating new enhanced reading experiences will grow the reading market for everyone without cannibalizing existing publishing sales streams.
H. M. Warner, co-founder of Warner Brothers, was famously quoted in 1927 as saying, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” The key with enhanced ebooks is not to give up on them, but to explore what will work for today’s modern reader. We need to work out how to compete with other entertainment offerings so that every now and then Netflix gets turned off and the good old-fashioned (but now digitally enhanced) book is picked up instead.