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Enhanced ebooks are dead – Evan Schnittman was mostly right

The London Book Fair is going to begin tomorrow, and today there was a digital conference.  One of  the key topics at was enhanced ebooks. Specifically, Evan Schnittman, the managing director of Bloomsbury, is reported to have argued in his keynote that enhanced ebooks are dead.

I’m waiting to hear back from him, and all I have to go on right now is a summary of his address I found in The Bookseller. So I don’t want to read too much into it (until I know what he actually said). From what I can tell, his words were taken out of context.

"Enhanced will have an incredibly big future in education, but the idea of innovation in the narrative reading process is just a non-starter, I’ve been smug about this, and now I’m even smugger."

I’ve never liked most enhanced ebooks. All too many consist of audio and video slapped on top of an existing story with out really adding anything to the story. In a lot of cases you could read the original and not lose anything. In others, the added content comes to little more than games slapped on top.

With that in mind, I kinda wish he hadn’t been so outspoken on the death of enhanced ebooks. Yes, a lot of the ones made so far are a waste of money, but the idea is not. His keynote is going to be misinterpreted into calling for the death of all enhanced ebooks, and that’s not what he said.  That’s going to scare some away from the idea of enhanced ebooks which could kill some worthwhile projects.

This brings to mind one title from Vook.  It’s built on an Ann Rice story and while it’s a waste of money as an ebook,  it’s a pretty decent fan app.  It will still appeal to a particular niche audience – fans of Ann Rice.

Speaking of enhanced ebooks, I’ve had one in my library for about 4 years now –  only it might not be what you think of as enhanced. There’s a version of  A Fire upon the Deep byVernor Vinge that has all sorts of interesting footnotes. It includes a number of his working notes like background data, cross-reference hints, and reminders. It’s worth it to his fans to get the enhanced ebook.

Basically I’m agreeing with Evan that enhancing an existing story is a waste, but adding content that will interest the reader might not be.

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ragnorak April 10, 2011 um 2:28 pm

Another excellent example of a recent enhanced ebook is "Known and Unknown" by Donald Rumsfeld. When read on the Nook Color (I don’t know about other readers) the footnotes are hyperlinked to a web page where you can view the original personal notes, public documents, etc. concerned with that chapter or footnote.

Brian O’Leary April 10, 2011 um 3:51 pm

You could extend your point a bit – suppliers don’t get to declare a format dead; consumers do. If I create something that people want, and it happens to be "enhanced", it doesn’t matter much what someone said at LBF.

Gordon Harris April 11, 2011 um 1:48 am

I agree that for some purposes, enhanced ebooks are a waste of time, but, especially for young readers' books, enhanced brings the opportunity to allow instant hyperlinks to footnotes, images, maps, etc. that make the story more interesting. Having taught young children for years I know that many, if not most of them won’t take the time to search through an index at the back of the book for information. Having instant hyperlinks makes it much more likely that the readers will get a much fuller understanding of the concepts being discussed, whether it be rounding up cattle in a western or the types of ships and areas used by pirates in past centuries.

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Frank Fiore December 31, 2011 um 3:50 pm

Trapdoor Books: Doing Enhanced eBooks Right

Do a search on Google for enhanced ebooks and you will find that there’s a divergence of opinion on them. The main critique falls into three areas.

The first opinion states that enhanced ebooks with embedded video, sound and graphics, takes away from the enjoyment of the book because the enhanced ebook intrudes on the reader’s ability to imagine the story in his mind. The very popular Harry Potter books loved by children are used as a prime example.

This opinion states that any attempt to add greater dimensions to the Harry Potter story telling like the movies takes away from the imagination of the children. But that’s a false argument.

Sure, when a child reads a Harry Potter book, he or she congers up a vivid picture in their mind of the characters and environment in the book. Those critics hold that the movies made from those books somehow take away from that imagination process.

But if that were true, how do you account form the hundreds of millions of dollars each book in the series has generated as a movie? And most of the audience for these movies are the children that read the Harry Potter book. The children enjoyed both versions of the story telling and it did little to take way their imagination of the story.

Of course, the professional handling of the book material by the movie studio did the story justice. As in anything creative – it has bee done well.

The second critique of enhanced ebooks comes from those that say the imbedded multimedia and extended material interrupts the reading experience. They claim, rightfully so, that the embedded video, audio and links to the Internet within the text interrupts the reading of the book. But Trapdoor Books has recognized this problem and placed its multimedia and outside links in what is called the ‘marginalia’ that sits along the outside column of the text. This marginalia can be totally turned off and the reader can read just text.

The third critique has nothing to do with the reading experience. It has to do with economics — the cost of producing enhanced ebooks. This is a valid critique. It does cost more to produce an enhanced book. Thus the retail cost of the ebook is higher than the traditional ebook.

But Trapdoor Books has found a solution to that. Their enhanced books are FREE. They are advertising supported and that revenue pays for the production of the ebook.

So, Trapdoor Books has found the way to meet the objections of the enhanced book skeptics.

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