The Real Reason Enhanced Ebooks Haven’t Taken Off (Or, Evan Schnittman Was Right… For the Most Part)

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According to a recent article on the Futurebook blog, so far no publisher has proven that Evan Schnittman, industry thought-leader and current executive vice president and chief marketing and sales officer of Hachette Book Group, was wrong when he declared enhanced ebooks and apps essentially dead and a non-starter for publishers during a presentation at London Book Fair in 2011 (he was with Bloomsbury at the time). Further, with Book Expo 2014 coming up, the topic of enhanced ebooks is conspicuously missing from the agenda. Though there are one or two such panels scheduled during the IDPF Digital Book conference, what does it mean when there are no general sessions planned to address this subject? Does it signal that most publishers have given up on spending the time and resources on developing interactive reading experiences? Have they simply determined there’s no real market for these kinds of digital products? Was Evan Schnittman correct? Overall, I’d venture to say, for the most part, the answer is a resounding yes.

Despite plenty of debate about the merits of enhanced ebooks, not enough attention has been paid to the real reason digital projects featuring embedded video, audio, and other forms of interactivity haven’t resonated with readers:

The main problem is that the market as it currently exists does not allow publishers to deliver the same enhanced product across all current digital platforms, whether it be Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and Kobo’s Arc. And when you stop and think about it, no other content creator is faced with this conundrum.

We often compare publishing to the music industry, and yes, record companies have been dealing with fast moving changes of their own over the years, but regardless of the medium, if you and I are standing in line at Starbucks and I ask if you’ve heard Beck’s new album and liked this song or that, you will know what I’m talking about because regardless of how you ultimately heard the tracks, whether by CD, vinyl, or download, we both heard the songs the way the artist intended. And the same goes for most other forms of media. For example: Did you binge watch all seven seasons of Breaking Bad? Well so did I, but you rented the DVDs while I streamed episodes on my iPad during my commute on the train. Played Call of Duty with your gaming buddies over the weekend? I did too and we’re able to enthusiastically share our first-person shooter experiences even though you have an Xbox and I’ve got a Playstation. And that’s how it’s pretty much always been with print editions of books as well, whether bought from a brick and mortar store, online, or checked out of the local library. Like music, TV shows, games, movies, etc., the hardcover or trade paperback delivered the same content in the same format no matter what shelf it was pulled from.

Seems obvious that this is the way things should be because it’s a more unified experience for readers.

But here’s the thing — that’s just not the case when it comes to ebooks of any type, but especially when describing ones enhanced with audio, video, and other interactive features.

GRIMMipadWhile I was at NBCUniversal we produced a number of highly interactive projects using Apple’s proprietary iBooks Author ebook platform in support of television programs, films, and corporate initiatives. The most popular was Grimm: The Essential Guide, which was a big hit with fans of the show, reaching upwards of 250,000 downloads. In addition to reading about the series, the ebook offered unique options to view 3D models of Wesen (the monsters); get a 360 degree view inside Rosalie’s Spice Shop; use a palette to draw a favorite character, and much more. All cool, fun stuff for iBookstore customers to enjoy, right? Well, yes and no, because even within an Apple-centric universe there were boatloads of Grimm fans that were eager to experience this digital companion only to learn they couldn’t because they owned iPhones and iPods, but not iPads. And the reason? Because ebooks created using iBooks Author can only be viewed on iPad; disappointed viewers wanted to know why. And if that wasn’t frustrating enough, when Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet users downloaded this free, awesome ebook they saw promoted on TV or social media, those versions didn’t even include any of these features since neither device, at least at the time, could support them. In other words, we had to release a simpler, flatter, more traditional book-like product, which was a compromise of our original vision.

And therein lies the rub.

If publishers can’t widely distribute enhanced ebooks across all channels then they will simply never gain traction by word of mouth, reviews, or with promotions (and I mean ones that don’t require the necessary asterisk to explain in fine print that the iBooks version features this, the Kindle version features that, and the Google Play version features neither). Those in the trenches of day-to-day ebook development at Disney, HarperCollins, Workman, Wiley, S&S, Random House, DK, Atavist, and others know exactly what I’m talking about and are nodding their heads.

So, am I suggesting we throw in the towel and stop pushing the digital storytelling envelope? My answer is not just no, but a resounding one at that!

And that’s because eventually Apple will most likely figure out how to make IBA projects viewable on iPhones and iPods and for all I know it could be as soon as tomorrow. And Amazon’s recent purchase of Comixology suggests it has plans to make interactive reading more dynamic on the Kindle Fire, which would be great since ebook sales from the Kindle store represents the lion’s share of the market.

Schnittman’s bold stance didn’t surprise me because in January 2011, just a few months before the London Book Fair, we had a similar conversation over drinks in Paris while participating in an international publishing exchange. Ultimately, I agreed with his point in regards to fiction, or immersive reading, after sharing my experience developing the iPhone app for Cathy’s Book, the first young adult transmedia project that paved the way for Scholastic’s hit 39 Clues, The Amanda Project, Aisling’s Diary, and several others. The influential print edition first published in 2006 was a success, but the app, which came out three years later, not so much. I had to concede such ambitious projects weren’t sound investments economically for traditional publishers and that the promotional window, particularly for novels, provided less opportunity to ever recoup the costs of production. This probably remains the case for most publishers, even the large ones. But I don’t believe anyone in our industry has ever suggested that all ebooks should be enhanced, and even Schnittman recognized during the London Book Fair the potential for enhancements in “how to” and academia segments.

Having just wrapped up my role as lead producer of JFK: 50 Days, a 2010 video enhanced project by Perseus Books Group that received a good amount of attention, including from the New York Times — I felt then, and still do today — that select non-fiction titles can be even better when paired with curated video/audio/etc. And the more evergreen the topic, the better the chance to re-promote year-after-year or to be discovered repeatedly in Google searches.

The Meet the Press 65th anniversary ebooks I recently had the privilege to produce reaffirmed that belief and serve as great examples of bringing history to life in digital book form. It’s one thing to read about an appearance on MTP by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1957, but it’s another entirely to actually watch that moment accompanied by a few informative paragraphs that put her comments into historical context.

The Futurebook post concludes that 3.5 years after London Book Fair 2011 we now know people prefer to just read straight text and don’t want these enhancements. But given the distribution challenges I described earlier, I think one can not come to such a conclusion with any certainty. Readers can’t determine what they do or don’t prefer if they aren’t aware of what they’re missing.

Mike Shatzkin, another industry thought-leader, wrote a blog post more than a year ago asking “How far away can it be for the NBC News book on a national election…”, which we actually did publish in November of 2012 called Election Night. It’s an insightful read and features terrific archival footage from 1948, the dawn of television, right up until President Obama’s re-election to office. During an appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball, host Chris Matthews said to author Stephen Battaglio, “Congratulations on finally justifying having one of these hi-tech books…” and “I don’t think you can not buy this if you’re a true junky like me.” Such coverage resulted in hundreds of people that evening choosing to download the enhanced edition over the standard one when presented with the option.

I’m confident there are audiences equally anxious for well produced digital books featuring enhancements with purpose. This is the key: that interactive ebooks be developed with the long term in mind, with less expectation of being a blockbuster, but instead be elegantly simple in design/functionality, as well as entertaining, educational and utilitarian.

Like the enhanced Everything Language series embedded with audio that was released during my time at F+W Media, which in print, includes a CD. Or the Everything Baby Sign Language book, which includes a DVD in the back of the print edition, but the same videos were repurposed and featured within the enhanced ebook. Interactive titles like these make perfect sense in digital form to consumers and become part of the slow burn for publishers that can result in a consistent stream of revenue, year-after-year.

In the late 1990s, Internet pioneer Josh Harris launched an experimental, video-based art project called, Quiet: We Live In Public, which invited 100 volunteers willing to appear on webcam 24/7, capturing their every movement. It was a challenging, technological feat that helped lead the way for reality TV. More than 15 years later such an online endeavor would be a piece-of-cake in our world of YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Facetime, and Pinterest where we’re literally all connected and share everything about our daily lives. I feel we’re in a similar moment in time when it comes to interactive reading and that eventually enhanced ebooks, or whatever they’ll be called years from now, will become more mainstream. And that is why I passionately believe it’s more important than ever to keep innovating, to keep redefining reader engagement, and to keep the conversation going with our ebook retail partners until it’s possible to present the same interactive digital product to everyone, everywhere.

Hopefully such discussions will return to Book Expo 2015.

Until then, you can find me in the trenches.

Related: Win industry-wide acclaim for your cutting-edge ebook projects — enter the Digital Book Awards!

 

Peter Costanzo

About Peter Costanzo

Peter Costanzo is an award-winning ebook producer and online marketing/business development strategist. He serves as a Digital Book Awards judge and also teaches the "Digital Trends in the Book Industry" and the "New Media: Technology and Devices" courses at NYU. Follow him on Twitter @PeterCostanzo.

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39 thoughts on “The Real Reason Enhanced Ebooks Haven’t Taken Off (Or, Evan Schnittman Was Right… For the Most Part)

  1. Refusal of eReader device manufacturers to embrace the ePub3 standard has led to a fragmentation of display capabilities that reminds me of the Explorer vs. Netscape browser wars of the 1990s. You can’t display a rich media eBook consistently on all platforms, so why will publishers invest in delivering broken experiences to large groups of readers?

    Though web browsers have their own consistency issues, web standards have come a long way and the demise of Flash as a web platform has driven HTML5 innovation. Why not return to the free and open web as a platform for high-end eBook delivery? See http://www.thebluemonkbook.com for an example. Read more about PubML eBooks at http://theworldsgreatestbook.com/pubml-web-based-ebooks/ The web browser offers responsive design, web typography, CSS hyphenation, and a technology/design freedom that simply isn’t available on eReader devices.

    • Thanks Javier – In answer to your question and Dave Bricker’s comment above, I do think that HTML5 has tremendous potential to address a number of issues, but that said, ultimately publishers want to release product into the world where the readers already are – And currently the concentration can be found at Amazon’s Kindle store, Apple’s iBookstore, and the Nook section of BN.com. And so I imagine the preference would be to have interactive digital products that are as close as possible “experience-wise” be available through each of those channels. We’re just not there yet.

  2. Interesting Article. I think HTML5 is in the same boat with Enhanced EBooks & ETextBooks. There certainly needs to be a paradigm shift for people to See the potentials.

    Part of the problem is many of the Enhanced Books are glommed on additions not Rethought, and ReDesigned to flow with and Actually Enhance the Reading Experience.

    I’ve been working on a few Ideas and since no one seems to be working on this it’s indeed a Wide Open Field.

    Using a Kitchen Sink approach to ReInvent the FootNote, a most wonderful and powerful thing, ReInstitute SubText, and Cleverly conceal MultiMedia as part of the Text.

    Great Article Mr. Costanzo. I look forward to Future ones.

    There my Two Colones Worth. Pura Vida

    Roland Klein

    SlothCreek.com
    Santiago de Puriscal
    Costa Rica

    • Thanks Roland – Some of what you say is certainly true, but there are a lot of great interactive e-reading projects produced by folks at both traditional publishing houses and at recent newcomers, such as Atavist, that really put a lot of time and thought into reformatting, etc. etc. for digital – But again, I just don’t believe the average consumer is acutely aware these products are available to them on a wide scale.

  3. Many thanks Peter for such an interesting article.

    As an enhanced ebooks co-producer, my company Actialuna has accompanied big publishing groups like Flammarion, in France, in the co-edition of high added value book apps.

    One of them, a multilingual book app for iPhone/iPad named \Volcano Boy\ (2011), has been a hit: downloaded as your \Grimm: The Essential Guide\ more than 250.000 times. But developing such an innovative book app is far from being profitable, even if Flammarion and us knew it from the beginning, accepting the experimental part of the project.

    Developing book apps is expensive, and made us being locked in Apple devices whereas a wider audience wanted to access to it. So we adapted a fail-soft ePub version in order to make it available on e-readers. However, we were loosing in the same time the added value of the creation: an innovative concept of in-between animations I won’t explain here, but which was really crucial in the reading experience we wanted to provide.

    Since ePub couldn’t support our innovation we were loosing the enhancements, but we were gaining the possibility to be interoperable and accessible to all or most of the readers. What a pity…

    ePub format still is an immature format, to some extend. And it needs the support of the publishing industry to improve. We, as a digital publishing company, now are very active within the IDPF to make ePub evolve, especially for comics and graphic novels reading. Having proved the concept we had developed in \Volcano Boy\ could be useful for a large type of contents, it’s possible one day \Volcano Boy\ could be available in an optimized version for ePub. We really hope so.

    We will be speaking about that implication inside the IDPF at BEA on next Thursday (11 am).

    All of that to say I totally join your thoughts. Enhanced ebooks need to be interoperable to find its audience. And this is mainly a question of format: not proprietary ones which lock the reader as well as the work itself in a device, but an open-source standard to collaborate in for the benefit of everyone.

    Best, and thanks again Peter.


    Denis Lefebvre
    co-founder of Actialuna & Sequencity
    denis /a/ actialuna.com

  4. My thought is if I’m reading I want to read. Doing something else interrupts that. It’s the same if I’m watching a movie — do I want the movie to stop so I can read three pages of prose? Probably not.

    The Grimm product mentioned in the article doesn’t even sound like a book. It’s software that lets you do a variety of things. It’s not a story, though, is it?

    I think interactive books have promise. If the story references something historical or geographical why not make an active link so I can read or see more? Why not include an audiobook along with the ebook? (Oh yeah, because audiobooks need to be sold separately so that more revenue is generated, but that’s another issue.)

    • Mark – Thanks for your comments – The Grimm project is meant to be a digital companion to the hit TV series and provides overviews for fans in the form of text, videos, photos, and some of the other types of features I described. It’s definitely a type of reading experience, but certainly not a novel.

      As far as including the audiobook of a title as an option that can be listened to instead of having to read at all times… Well, that’s been done – It all depends if the publisher can secure the rights to do so.

  5. Beyond the inevitable formatting issues, which major e-book company wants to reduce the lock-in penalty they already have in place? That a device more than a couple years old may not be able to read or get to all the interactive functionality leaves everyone frustrated.

    If you have a book that’s better off as an enhanced book, you have an app. Not a book. Children’s books and some educational books make perfect sense to be apps.

    • Thanks for your comments Chris – You can debate what should be an app and what should be an eBook, but yes, you’re correct that apps currently offer the ability to include lots of features that within eBooks, even within Apple’s iBooks Author, just aren’t possible at this time. But regardless, whether it’s iOS or Android, you still have to play within Apple’s or Google’s platform – In other words, on some level or another, you’re always “locked-in” and at the mercy of what they make possible for developers. Apps currently, and probably always will, allow for a wider net to be cast when it comes to imagination and programming.

  6. In our opinion the best way to go is open standards such as EPUB3.
    However today, we currently don’t have enough reading applications that support the full EPUB3 standard.
    Apple iBooks does a pretty good job but only for iOS.
    For Android Helicon Books has several solutions, one of them is Gitden reader.
    As for windows or blackbarry, I am not aware of good solutions yet.
    I will be happy to know about good reading applications for windows or blackbarry.

    • @Ori

      Azardi desktop reader does a fairly good job for windows and mac platforms. Though there is room for improvement. I myself could benefit from improvement in the area of added support for script based video fullscreen controls and at least a default centered / zoom to fit UI for their click to view image feature.

      Give ‘em a try.

      http://azardi.infogridpacific.com/

  7. I’ve had lots of success with DVD enhanced books between 2001-2013, most in the latter part of that period as well as some books as APPs. Part of my success was based on 1) Stores carrying inventories of them (that’s over, unfortunately) and 2) getting celeb narrators. The latter is not over, they’re just too expensive to hire. I’ve more enhance books to launch and I seek some digital marketing expertise. If you have some, please get in touch.

  8. As the producer of the enhanced eBook for JACQUELINE KENNEDY: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy, a NY Times bestseller, I agree with everything you say, Peter. I would only add that we, as an industry, have not done a very good job at \educating\ the consumer about enhanced eBooks. Although many people read on tablets, they don’t seem to get that reading non-fiction works can truly be better when hearing nine hours of audio from the subject or seeing videos, without leaving your chair.

    • Thanks Mark – I honestly think we try to do a good job, but the message gets murky for the reasons I described. It’s SO confusing for consumers when we attempt to explain why the version from Apple can do this, but a similar edition found on Amazon or wherever cannot. And it’s fine if the messaging directs everyone to the iBookstore, and solid success can be achieved, but the numbers would be so much higher if publishers could truly just send readers “wherever eBooks are sold.”

  9. Having built an enhanced interactive multimedia ebook, (\What’s Up Bangkok\) let me say it’s an arduous and frustrating process from start to finish. Took me 10-months and the platform we used, couldn’t handle all the interactivity. Only outlet it \plays\ is on an iPad. The ROI after so much work is laughable. $2.99 is the price and it should be $19.99 but nobody will buy it.

    I incorporated audio, video, internal and external links. The video’s were made using iMovie so are huge files. Most platforms can’t handle it or not up to code. I will never do it again. Next time I’ll farm it out. I’d love to learn InDesign but with a full-time job, I don’t have the time. I think that’s the best ebook platform but it’s going to cost you.

    The next hurdle is self-promotion. You take months getting everything to work then once your ebook is published, you have to promote. That’s a ton of work. Twitter, Facebook, Webpage, etc. Who has that kind of time?

    Enhanced ebooks/magazines are so cool but I’d say a majority of your audience is young. Entertainment Magazine has a really nice layout with tons of interactivity. It’s first class. However, I promise there’s a team of designers/builders.

    Finally, it’s a new technology with tablets and smartphones so it’s changing rapidly. One problem I had with iPad/Apple is that you can click on an external link which takes you to a cool website but then there’s no way to get back. Maybe that’s been fixed but it’s little hurdles like that which still need to be addressed.

    • I should add, if you DIY, good luck. Little things can take hours or days to fix. When you submit your final work to iBooks Publisher, I promise there will be a minimum of 20 errors. Photos not to resolution, not to size or format, HTML issues, etc. I’m not trying to discourage anyone but be prepared for a lot of time and work.
      Your best bet is ask around and see who builds interactive ebooks. I’d have a budget of $2000 to start. I was quoted $5000 to have someone build mine. I did it for just over $1000 but again, took me nearly a year. Did I make that money back? Not even close but it’s a wonderful tax write-off.

      • Thanks for your comments Steven – Producing enhanced eBooks is definitely not easy and certainly can be challenging if you’re going it alone – Not everyone has the resources as I did at NBC to produce such projects or the various ways to promote. I do agree that unless you’re confident you know the ins-and-outs of eBook production, (for example: your videos sound like they weren’t properly optimized, hence the large file sizes), then probably best to get some help from the pros.

  10. I think the author of this article is thinking too big – he’s thinking about extravagant, Hollywood-type ebook productions that cost a ton to make and require a huge sales return. And he’s assuming the enhancements – mainly video – will dominate the ebook.

    Basically, he’s making movies for ebooks.

    Granted, the confusing mixture of ebook reading devices and formats – tablets and phones of different sizes and operating systems, etc. causes major headaches for enhanced ebooks, especially if they involve expensive video productions out of Hollywood.

    But I don’t think this is the way enhanced ebooks will catch on. It’s going to be the small, independent authors – writing history books, travel books and how-to books – who will probably drive the acceptance, and ultimately the demand, for enhanced ebooks. Using today’s cheap technology, these small-time authors can record their own home-made video & audio, and easily include it in their how-to ebooks. That’s an enhancement. Ditto for web links, such as links to online Google maps for travel and history ebooks. That’s an enhancement. History and biographies can include speeches or discussions by the central characters. That’s an enhancement.

    It’s important to understand that these enhancements will not dominate the ebook; rather they will simply compliment the author’s text. And for the most part, these enhancements cost almost nothing to produce, and for the most part they’ll run on any tablet or any digital phone.

    Bottom line, when it comes to enhanced ebooks, Hollywood is not going to drive the “next big thing.” Hollywood will only cash in once the market has become standardized. For the time being, the enhanced ebook market will be driven by smaller, independent publishers.

    I also disagree that Apple will be the leader in the push to enhanced ebook technology. Apple is actually a small player in the ebook market, with maybe 5% of the market. Probably 85% of ebooks sales come from Amazon, and Android tablets are overtaking the iPad in sales. The main drivers of enhanced ebook technology will not be Hollywood or Apple; rather ebook technology for authors will driven be Adobe – specifically through it’s InDesign product – and possibly Google.

    • Sorry, but I have to disagree – Lots of ambitious, creative people at “hollywood” type companies like Disney, Sony, Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers, and soon Dreamworks, are working hard to deliver great experiences to the masses and we need such teams with real resources behind them to be as innovative as they can be because it shines a light on what’s possible. Smaller, independent publishers have great content too, but don’t necessarily have access to video production houses, photo banks, and other internal departments. They can partner with companies that provide such services, but I’ve been down that road – By the time the pie is split up, there’s just no money to be made — Also, Apple IS leading the way for innovation within eBooks at the moment, but I believe I pointed out that it would be great if it were Amazon instead since they had the “loin’s share” of the eBook market. You will also find that almost all of the retailers don’t allow for self-published authors to include enhancements within the files they submit, making it nearly impossible to release such a product on their own.

  11. Reasons for the failure of enhanced eBooks to become popular are speculative but…

    1. Publishers spent big money converting their catalogs to ePub2. An upgrade to leverage the capabilities of ePub3 will require a designer’s touch on every book. That hands-on attention is expensive compared to the relatively formulaic conversion of text to ePub2.

    2. EReader manufacturers support only a subset of ePub3′s capabilities and they do so inconsistently. The most capable eReader clients actually work in the web browser; dedicated devices are the least supportive of the ePub3 standard. Publishers are naturally hesitant to deliver inconsistent (that’s being diplomatic) to readers on different platforms.

    3. EBook innovation will come from the little people in the trenches. The big players are making money already with ePub2 (and variants like .mobi). What incentive do they have to raise the quality bar if consumers are buying? The cost/benefit analysis favors mediocrity.

    I developed my own open-source web-based (HTML5) eBook platform and publishing tools to deal with just this kind of market frigidity. The free and open web is now the most powerful and flexible eBook delivery platform. I doubt PubML™ will compete with proprietary mega-bookstores, but it does democratize ePublishing by providing an alternative distribution channel for enhanced eBooks and an affordable set of intuitive, visual publishing tools. See http://www.pubml.com

  12. I think everyone here is missing the point. An “enhanced” ebook is a video, not a book. People who buy them are too busy to carry the book around with them wherever they go. People would rather just read the words, not see extra pictures or interactive modules. So yeah, the enhanced ebook is great for children, but there is too much emphasis on the pictures, too. When I was young, I read McGuffey readers, which were collections of essays and stories by notable authors and important philosophers, and I enjoyed every bit without having to be dunned with the constant movement of little movies and “features”. You are building a distracted generation, not giving full entertainment or educational value to the readers. Sooner or later something will distract readers away from books, and it is already happening now.

    • Thanks Theresa – It sounds like you won’t be downloading an enhanced eBook any time soon, and that’s OK, they’re not for everyone, but believe me when I say there are audiences hungry for dynamic content that is well-produced, and as I said, has purpose. Perhaps we’ll win you over one of these days!

    • Theresa, don’t be so hasty to characterize an enhanced eBook as ” a video.” http://www.thebluemonkbook.com contains 350 video clips, 100 photo footnotes, 80 interactive maps, and 200 photographs. Not one of them clutters the text. In fact, the entire eBook format is designed around “enhancing” the reading experience. As a book typographer and author, I share your concerns but I think a wonderful balance can be struck between the text and its supporting media.

    • Following from Dave’s point above, enhanced eBooks can clearly be more then videos. However, I suspect that they sometimes get a bad rap because some examples created by publishers who are keen to tick the “we go beyond digital replicas” box end up featuring a number of ill conceived enhancements which often detract from the value of the underlying content.

      I would also agree with Theresa that there are some scenarios in which readers would rather just read words. However there are so many other subjects which enhancements and interactive functionality can add value to. For example, it’s difficult to explain the consistency of a batter in text but a video does well. However, I like to read and work with a cookbook at my own pace therefore a cooking channel doesn’t do it for me. As a publisher of enhanced eBooks we’ve found that there are so many topics conducive to this approach where enhancements that are seamlessly integrated with content can add significant value. But this doesn’t mean that everything should be enhanced – do this and the results will appear contrived!

  13. Someone up above commented that the app developers have failed by not doing enough to ‘educate’ the readers. Maybe the developers have not allowed themselves to be properly schooled by readers.

    Apps are not books. Apps are their own thing. Would you call an app with lots of video an \enhanced movie,\ or an app with a lot of sound files an \enhanced audio book\?

    This fixation on somehow building apps around the reading habits of book people seems counterproductive to the real growth of the app world. Apps can be seen as a wholly new medium and can set their own rules. Referencing back to books all the time represents more the desire for that vast collection of wallets represented by book enthusiasts.

    Many \book\ readers find app-crap mostly gratuitous fluff.

    And most \book\ publishers, publishing to their smallish niches as most of us do, find app creation prohibitively expensive.

    Which is not to say that apps aren’t exciting and rich in content. But they are very expensive to produce, unnecessary to those seeking literary adventure, and as the author pointed out, fraught with technological limitations beyond the control of the content developers.

  14. Your use of Comixology as an example is a poor one. Any previous users of it on the Apple platform have essentially been told to stuff it by Amazon. It’s android now and nothing but. So… more incompatibility.

    • James – I used Comixology specifically in relation to Amazon to say that their purchase of the company might indicate more dynamic capabilities on the horizon for the Kindle Fire tablet in regards to eBooks. I certainly don’t see it as something that will completely level the playing field when it comes to shared experiences, but it might be a step in the right direction.

  15. Good for you! Great article. I agree that enhanced books hold much potential — and can demonstrate that fact, because my multimedia “novel in snippets” for tablet and smartphone is selling briskly. There is room in this world for more than just ink on paper.

  16. My historical novel The Eagle and the Swan (story of 6th-century Empress Theodora, a former burlesque queen) shows what enhancements can add to the reading experience. Readers can see maps, character portraits, clicks for supplemental info, glossary, timeline, etc for the first installment of the book for free on the website. The London-based publisher, Erudition Digital, has also developed software that’s platform-agnostic and can be viewed on the various tablet formats-just what your article calls for. They’re true pioneers, but, alas, nobody knows about it. Check out the enhanced edition to see how all these digital extras round out the story, especially for readers who want to know more about an obscure historical period.

  17. My historical novel The Eagle and the Swan (story of 6th-century Empress Theodora, a former burlesque queen) shows what enhancements can add to the reading experience. Readers can see maps, character portraits, clicks for supplemental info, glossary, timeline, etc for the first installment of the eBook for free on the website. The London-based publisher, Erudition Digital, has also developed software that’s platform-agnostic and can be viewed on the various tablet formats-just what your article calls for. They’re true pioneers, but, alas, nobody knows about it. Check out the enhanced edition to see how all these digital extras round out the story, especially for readers who want to know more about an obscure historical period.

  18. Great article Peter. Its topics like this that have been discussed at great length, for many years now “in the trenches”, so it was good to hear someone articulate it so well and make it more accessible to people who have not been very involved in the intricacies of an eBook development process.

    “I feel we’re in a similar moment in time when it comes to interactive reading and that eventually enhanced ebooks, or whatever they’ll be called years from now, will become more mainstream. And that is why I passionately believe it’s more important than ever to keep innovating, to keep redefining reader engagement, and to keep the conversation going with our ebook retail partners until it’s possible to present the same interactive digital product to everyone, everywhere.”

    Amen to that!

  19. A very interesting article, Peter. As a fellow enhanced eBook \trench warrior\ your article encapsulates much of our experience in this space along with our future hopes regarding the evolution of the various platforms (e.g. Apple, Amazon).

    We also adopted an HTML5-based approach (http://www.eruditions.co.uk) in order to create a \future proof\ foundation for our efforts. However, we still ended up with a number of scars from attempting to publish to as wide a range of platforms and devices as possible. The suffering caused by the numerous vagaries and variations associated with each platform / format is exacerbated when one goes beyond a basic layout with static content.

    We’ve definitely found a growing consumer appetite for something that encapsulates the best of a traditional book experience while leveraging the capabilities of the digital channel. While I’m not sure how quickly Amazon and Apple will evolve (and if they do, it may be in their own, special proprietary ways!) but I would agree, based on our own experience, that the future for enhanced eBooks is bright. Best of luck in the trenches!

  20. My partner and I stumbled over here coming from a different website and thought I should check things out.
    I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to going over your web page repeatedly.

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