Many startups have made a go of producing enhanced ebooks, and so far no one has had much luck in creating a real market. But Clare Swanson , writing for Publishers Weekly, thinks that HarperCollins has found a way forward.
Swanson is pointing at the success of the enhanced version of Chris Kyle's novel*, American Sniper, and asking whether it's a sign that the time of enhanced ebooks has come:
For the first three weeks of the new year, the enhanced edition of Chris Kyle’s memoir,American Sniper, led Apple’s iBooks bestseller list, consistently landing several spots above the title’s standard e-book. Its hot streak was a rare victory for enhanced e-books (especially over their unenhanced counterparts). On the whole, sales of enhanced e-books have fallen short of expectations since publishers began investing in the format, which incorporates video and other interactive features, roughly five years ago.
Is American Sniper’s place at the top of Apple’s chart a one-off occurrence, owing to the popularity of the film adaptation (which raked in six Oscar nominations), or is it a harbinger of good things to come for enhanced e-books—pointing to a new trend, enhancing titles with TV and film adaptations, that may help publishers sell what has been a historically difficult format to market?
I was going to add that article to the Monday morning links post, but then I got interested in the idea and decided to answer the question.
It took me about 10 minutes.
In short, yes, this is a one-off success and not a bellwether for a new market, and I have a simple explanation as to why.
Swanson failed to mention one important detail in her article: price.
The enhanced version of American Sniper is selling in iBooks and the Kindle Store for $5.99 and $5.86, respectively. That is far cheaper than most enhanced ebooks, so until it is possible to sell most (all?) enhanced ebooks that cheaply, this work is an outlier and not a forerunner for a rising market.
What's more, given that the audio and video added to enhanced ebooks have a higher production cost than your average ebook, we also need to ask whether HarperCollins is making much of a profit on this title. (This ebook has 12 video interviews of the late author.) I don't think they'd sell it for $6 if they were losing money, but I also don't think they're earning a whole lot.
And since HC has reported that they've sold 166,000 copies, I think it's safe to assume that (at best) this is not a huge money maker which has justified the initial investment.
And so the success of this title is not something to get excited over. That is regrettable; I think enhanced ebooks are cool on a technical level. I'd like to see a market for them, but I just don't expect that to happen.
P.S. In July of last year the Kyle estate lost a $1.8 million libel lawsuit brought by Jesse Ventura, thus proving that Chris Kyle is a very colorful storyteller and that this work is not biographical.
P.P.S. Coincidentally, the enhanced edition ranked higher in iBooks than in the Kindle Store following the release of the movie. Remember how Keith Moerer, the Apple Director of iBooks, said at the DBW conference last month that Apple did well with cross-promoting movies, music, and ebooks? I think we have an example to show what he meant.