Is the Enhanced Ebook Really Dead?

Posted: May 18, 2011 at 2:04 pm  |  By: gerlofdonga  |  Tags: ,

According to Evan Schnittman, Bloomsbury’s managing director of sales and marketing, enhanced content for narrative-based ebooks is dead. He announced at last month’s book fair: “Enhanced [ebooks] will have an incredibly big future in education, but the idea of innovation in the narrative reading process is just a non-starter.” Faber and Faber’s head of digital, Henry Volans, disagreed: “Apps are a phenomenon of our age and are here to stay.” So are enhanced ebooks an already-dying phenomenon or not?

The difficulties of enhanced ebooks

Carolyn Reidy, President and CEO of Simon & Schuster, points out that they’re difficult to sell: “The enhanced ebook market is not very strong and some of the biggest sellers still are less than 2,000 copies. [It] doesn’t appear that public is enthused by the concept. Apps [… ] are very expensive to make and get lost in the App Store.” Agent and E-Reads publisher Richard Curtis stresses that copyright is another difficulty: “The challenge of clearing rights for enhanced e-books is so dauntingly complex that nothing less than an overhaul of the current antiquated system is necessary if enhanced e-books are not to die aborning.”

Confidence in enhanced ebooks

Joost Kircz, director of research of Electronic Publishing at the Domain Media, Creation and Information of the Hogeschool van Amsterdam and the main organizer of the Unbound Book conference, disagrees with Schnittman: “Stories can be enhanced. The whole invention of the movie is proof that this statement is untrue. In cinema the narrative, the novel, has been expanded into sound and vision. So the enhanced book has a fantastic future, although we aren’t yet there. It is like saying when the first film started: this will never replace theatre. So this is really a defensive and short-sighted statement.”

Several publishers believe in the future of enhanced ereaders enough to develop them. Enhanced Editions Ltd. specializes in their publication, and Penguin, Random House and St. Martin’s Press are jumping in the mix too. Fionnuala Duggan, Director of Random House Group Digital, sees the enhanced ebook as an opportunity to attract new costumers: “We are experimenting with ways to create new interactive content which will not only appeal to traditional book lovers, but will also reach out to a brand new readership.” Ana Maria Allessi, publisher of HarperMedia, stresses their attraction:  “When both digital editions are available, and consumers are given the choice, in half the cases they’ll pay more for extra content.” Also Dominique Raccah, publisher and owner of Sourcebooks Inc. relates it to reader interest:  “We sold more than 4 million physical books with CDs, so we know that there is an interest in meshing text with audio and video.”

Publishers are often enthusiastic, but what do authors think? James Patterson and Lee Child take a positive view. Patterson sees it as new way to engage his readers: “Packaging ebooks with additional, interactive, digital content is a great way to engage readers. I’m always interested in exploring ways of attracting people to my novels.” Child believes enhancement will mark the future of publishing: “In the future both writers and readers will interact with books, stories and characters – and each other – in wholly new ways, and I congratulate Random House for asking the questions and supplying the first answers.”

The categorisation of ebooks

When it comes down to it, we first have to define what an enhanced ebook is. Schnittman for example uses both the terms ‘enhanced e-books’ and ‘apps’. Over the years different terms have been used for ebooks with enhancements, such as ‘expanded ebook’, ‘amplified ebook’, ‘enriched ebook’, ‘Vook’ and ‘ iBook’. I propose a distinction of three different kinds of ebooks: ‘ebook’, ‘enhanced ebook’ and ‘multimedia ebook’.  ‘Ebook’ is the simple ebook, a digital version of a book without extras. The ‘enhanced ebook’ is an electronic book with additional information, primarily of text, and relates to the core text but is not part of the core. The ‘multimedia ebook’ is embedded with different media such as pictures, music, video and games. (S.Schram, The Consequences of the Literary E-boook, 2010).

People are more and more accustomed to the multimedia properties the computer provides, so enhanced ebooks and especially multimedia ebooks will likely be successful. The publisher however should look carefully at any single book’s content and decide which enhancements should be added to increase the pleasure of reading it. Not every reader will equally value all the possible enhancements for the ebook. People who read for a hobby might not value the addition of different media but rather of essays about the context of the story or information about the author. Readers who read for entertainment might prefer entertaining additions such as recipes, trivia or quizzes, and others who have hobbies and who for example especially read during the holidays might value the media enhancements more. Readers who like watching films or gaming will value the adding of film clips and games to a book. In conclusion the enhanced ebook is not dead but alive and will be even more livelier in the future.