The number of “enhanced e-books” is currently few and far between, but this is quickly changing, as is our perception of the book itself. The world of publishing can expect some interesting times as authors look to new ways of expressing themselves.

When Penguin announced this week it was releasing an enhanced e-book version of Ken Follett’s hugely popular novel “Pillars of the Earth,” it wasn’t too surprising the publishing house chose the iPad as its launch platform. Since the release of Apple’s tablet device, more and more authors see a way to liberate themselves beyond text-based storytelling, allowing them to offer readers (or viewers, or listeners) enhancements to their books and, in some cases, create entirely multimedia new offerings.

Why is the iPad becoming ground-zero for enhanced e-book innovation? I explore this in a a GigaOM Pro article called iPad Pushes Big Authors into Enhanced E-Books (sub req’d), but the answer is pretty simple: Most of the enhanced e-books coming out today are written as apps, and the pairing of Apple’s dominant app platform with the the media-consumption friendliness of the iPad is a natural choice for authors looking to create a multimedia-laden e-book.

But why write e-books as apps and not just, say, an iBook eBook or Kindle eBook? The main reason for this app-centric approach to enhanced e-books today is the early stage of the market. While iBooks and Kindle both recently upgraded their e-book platforms to allow authors and publishers to integrate audio and video, these upgrades have only just happened; any enhanced e-book projects up to this point (and likely for the next six months) are going to gravitate toward those outlets that enable the rich-media experiences they desire.

And even then, a multimedia enhanced iBook and Kindle would not be based on any enhanced e-book standard, but instead simply be different versions of proprietary platforms. Sure, they are potentially dominant platforms, but that doesn’t mean authors and publishers won’t eventually want a standard for an enhanced e-book, since creating media for different proprietary platforms means more work and, with that, more cost. Eliminating platform-specific development costs will become a big focus as more enhanced e-book come to market; unified standards would go along way in helping in this regard.

Standards or not, many e-books in the future will undoubtedly have audio, video or both at the most basic incorporation of “extras” (think DVD extras). Or they’ll go the direction of Ryu Murakami’s latest effort, an entirely new mixed-media offering that targets multiple senses from conception.

As this happens, there is no doubt that the consumer’s own perception of what an e-book is will continue to evolve. The creation of a compelling audio- and video-enhanced e-book could significantly widen the audience for books beyond those who read today, which could also create a whole new digital book industry, much like has been seen in the digital video and music industries. No doubt as this happens, the iPad will continue to be a key platform.

Read the full post here.

Image Source: Apple/iTunes

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  1. Why exactly are enhanced eBooks such a different animal than the interactive CD-ROM magazines and what-not of the mid/late 90s? These are basically pop-up books. Great if your reading skills are feeble. Possibly good if you’re reading technical material (tutorials) of any kind, but kind of idiotic for novels.

    Perhaps this is all explained in the GigaOM pro article.

    1. @Max – really?

      Some probably said DVD extras were the same as CD-ROMs and no one would want extra features, but that’s not been the case.

      I think authors bring built-in audiences, and those popular authors who do singular creative offerings only in advanced e-books will no doubt covert a good percentage of fans who own e-readers to buy.

      Comparing CD-Rom magazines to the experience of reading a enhanced e-book on an iPad is a stretch, IMO.

  2. I’m no sure I agree that authors are seeking this liberation you speak of. There are surely ways to work in other forms already, radio plays, podcasts, movie scripts, plays. So many ways for an artists to express themselves already exist that the choice to work in the written (or typed) word is just that.

    Sure, audio, video and illustration can add something, but hardly liberation.

    All the best,

    1. @Eoin – I agree, there are lots of other avenues for author expression, but I think alot of authors will embrace the opportunity o connect with readers through enhanced editions of their eBooks, rather than doing through external channels that are outside the book such as a website.

      1. I can buy that alright, but it hardly = liberation. It also need not mean enhanced visually or with sound, it could just be an in book commenting tool!

  3. Am I just old fashioned in that I don’t want my books to be interactive. I want to read them.

    I like the community that surrounds a good book (author interaction, reading groups, discussions) — but as something separate, not part of the primary thing – which is the book.


  4. Oh Woopie! So I spend a year or more working on a book, getting the content and wording just right, and then some guy comes along and says that isn’t enough, that I’ve got to “enhance” it with audio bells, video whistles, and lots of interaction for those who have the attention span of gnats. “You’ve got to give them some button to tap on,” they say, “because they can’t read for more than five minutes without their minds blanking out.”

    So I spend more months of work with applications and techniques I don’t have the time or energy to understand. And for what? For a book that likely to sell for the same price because what really matters to readers–the content–remains the same. What a waste!

    Have any of the champions of video enhancement actually seen how costly and time-consuming the process is? It isn’t easy, it isn’t quick, and it isn’t cheap. Everyone has to be fed constantly and at great expense. That is expected. The background for hundreds of yards behind has to be purged of flaws. (There were no power lines in the England of Jane Austin.) Then actors, who must be paid well, stand around for hours for a few minutes of shooting. For all but bestsellers funded by deep-pocketed publishers and contracted out to pros, any multi-media content is likely to look like it was created by third graders on a rainy Saturday afternoon. It’ll hurt rather than help a book.

    Like others, I fear this debate is very much like the hype over CD-ROM multimedia that bombed utterly in the late 1980s. It wouldn’t be hard to illustrate that. Set a ‘reader’ down in front of a screen to interact with an enhanced book that’s either on a CD-ROM or downloaded via iTunes. Can they tell the difference? No. What Adobe is talking about doing today is merely a dressed up version of what Voyager and others were doing twenty years ago. Even the necessity of developing books as “applications” isn’t surprising. CD-ROM multimedia did exactly the same thing. Enhanced books developed back then were applications that typically ran on only one OS with strict hardware requirements. They often fell apart after a few minor OS upgrades. I know. I bought a few of them. Wasted money then. Wasted money now.

    There are a limited number of areas where multi-media might be helpful if properly done, such as teaching some areas of science or current events. But for most books, the enormous time it takes to create a passable video will never make it worth the effort either financially or in the eyes of readers.

    We need to forget this silliness and make it possible to format an ebook for an iPad or Kindle that has even half the useful layout and formatting features of PDF and paper. Then we’d be accomplishing something useful. As is, we’re simply wasting time and money.

    To state the obvious, Adult readers aren’t small children who need a picture on every page. They’re quite happy imagining the events in their own minds. That’s why on a given evening we read rather than watch a movie. We want to think. We want to imagine. We want to build a world in our minds. And we don’t want that done for us by others.

    1. Mike – no one is saying the vast majority of eBooks will now need multimedia. No one is saying many authors wouldn’t be content to stand on their own merit w/just text.

      What this is saying is there is now an opportunity to do creative works w/more than just text, and some authors are embracing this. Who says it has to have a movie production budget? I’m not. I guarantee if Janet Evanovich did an hour of video on her Flip camera and wanted to publish this in an enhanced version of a Stephanie Plum novel, she’d probably get a few hundred thousand people buying it the first day and loving it.

  5. Still will never replace a book imo. Lounging round a pool on holiday for example an ipad will just get wet and die.

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