A Vision for Making Ebooks More Engaging

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

A Vision for Making Ebooks More EngagingI’m convinced we’re still in the very early stages of ebook evolution. The current print-under-glass model works great for some books, but long-form digital content has so much more potential.

The market will ultimately move beyond the only option readers have today of consuming dumb content on smart devices. Content enrichment is one way forward, but neither authors nor publishers have an appetite for the effort required to add video and other web elements to their books. And before you suggest that I’m trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, let me once again say that some books are just fine with the print-under-glass model. But there are plenty of books and genres that would benefit from digital enrichment, and those are what we need to focus on.

If the manual process isn’t viable, how can we use technology to our advantage to take this content to the next digital level? I propose an automated solution, one in which auto-tagging, text analysis and search results all play a role.

Here’s how it would work:

• The ebook contents are analyzed by an enrichment tool in which key phrases, names, locations, etc. are identified and tagged.
• Those tagged elements are then viewable by the reader when they tap the screen in their reading app; the service remains completely invisible to readers who don’t wish to use it.
• When the reader taps on one of the tagged elements, a pop-up menu provides the opportunity to dive deeper on that topic with links to video, audio, maps, webpages, etc. All of this is fed by the application’s preferred search engine (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.).
• The reader is then able to take that deeper dive, pin links to the page for future reading and share their favorites with other readers of the ebook.

Because this vision integrates web elements with the book, it requires an active Internet connection. If the reader is offline, he or she is still able to read the original print-under-glass version of the book.

The video below is a quick walk-through of how this concept is presented to the reader. As you watch it, remember the intention here is to develop a front-end content analysis/parsing tool that tags and builds all the linkages, so no work is required by the author or editor. Also, note the opportunity to create new income streams for the publisher and author via paid and sponsored link campaigns.

This article first appeared on Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies.

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2 thoughts on “A Vision for Making Ebooks More Engaging

  1. Farimah Schuerman

    There are companies like Copia Interactive that currently provide these interactions within texts in ways that are appropriate for instruction and teacher student interaction. While AI is valuable as a general methodology, the personal touch a teacher, (or publisher,) can provide ensures that the interaction is guided to a learning outcome. Its reassuring to see and hear others in support of this approach. Thanks for a great read.

  2. Michael W. Perry

    Pointless ideas, in most cases, because they make reading into grind. If I wanted all that linking, I’d go online. When I read a book I want the author to have done the hard work. When he discusses \a\ he brings up \b\ because he’s concluded the two go together. I don’t want to get lost in the weeds from \b\ to \c\ to \d\ and so forth, totally losing touch with \a.\ It’s the author’s responsibility to create a story line not mine to make one out of bits and pieces scattered all over. I want a linear story. I don’t want what looks like an explosion in a plot factory. That’s how books are different from the web.

    That said, ebooks could do a better job of handling supplemental material. Accordion text would allow readers to expand the general narrative to get more background without the queazy ‘where am I’ feeling that hyperlinking creates. Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it’s an improvement. Hyperlinking illustrates that. So does multi-media.

    And while some apps are struggling with how to display supplemental material, they’re still failing utterly. Apple’s pop-up windows in iBooks is a good example. The basic idea was a good one—turn footnotes or endnotes into pop-up windows. But the implementation was instantly seen as awful by virtually everyone who does book layout. What was Apple thinking when it made that pop-up have a huge number, as if that mattered in a digital context, and so much whitespace, the actual text that readers were pursing was placed in two lines and the bottom requiring scrolling? That makes using those pop-ups an enormous pain to use. Did Apple really think something so awful was attractive and artistic? They must have. Last time I checked, it was still how iBooks does pop-ups.

    I could go on and on. Why don’t digital books handle graphics intelligently as the screen size changes? InDesign actually lets designers specify how graphics and text blocks move as the page size changes. Why can’t something similar happen with ebooks? Digital could handle illustrations better than print. Instead, it handles them far worse, forcing awkward page breaks and making relocating that fleeting illustration harder to find than in a print book.

    I might add one more remark, told me by someone who consulted on technology for schools. School systems tend to fall for the dumbest ideas, gimmicks that they think will make learning and teacher better but don’t. As he pointed out, when a technology has failed in the marketplace, those stuck with promoting it typically hire salesmen to visit schools and dump it on them. His illustration were those huge, interactive laser disks that were once \the coming thing,\ but the same is true of more than a moderate use of multi-media and most hyperlinking. When you’re first learning about a topic, all that extra stuff merely confuses and makes learning more difficult.

    –Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride (a young adult novel set in 1870s North Carolina)



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