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Interactive ebooks take on fiction novels

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Creating truly interactive ebook apps has been a task that’s been aimed more at children’s content like Alice in Wonderland or non-fiction work like Al Gore’s Our Choice. But a new transmedia publishing company is trying to breathe life into fiction novels, showcasing the written word and storytelling while enhancing it with an array of interactive elements.

Chafie Creative Group, based in Dallas, is introducing a new iPad app (s aapl) called Immersedition, the first in what it believes is a new form of interactive book-reading apps. The app will feature as its first book a story called The Survivors, a young adult piece of fiction from new author Amanda Havard, who designed the story to ultimately be an enhanced media experience. The 283-page book, which went on sale earlier this year in print and tells the stories of descendants from participants in the Salem Witch Trial, includes 300 touch points that reveal 500 interactive frames of content embedded in the pages of the book through watermarks. 

The watermarks reveal things like historical facts, maps, photos, videos and character profiles that change depending on where in the story a user is. There’s also embedded music including three original tracks that can be turned on at key points. And there’s even live Twitter profiles from five of the main characters, who continue to tweet and add background to the story. All of the content works offline except the maps and Twitter feed.

The book works to preserve the reading experience for people, enabling them to still engage their imagination. So it doesn’t include images of the actual characters and instead shows runway shots of what they might wear. But it does include more than 50 location shots to give a broad sense of what a place looks like without getting into the details. The idea is to augment the reading experience and keep people involved while still respecting the traditional reading process.

A lot of the existing enhanced ebooks are children’s books that bring almost game-like elements into a story. Others like Our Choice employ infographics, videos, images and other elements that allow people to get deeper into the book as if it were a museum display that can be pinched, zoomed and manipulated. But it’s trickier to apply some of these elements to a novel, which can suffer if certain elements are too literally enhanced. Go too far and people feel like you’re robbing them of the experience of creating images in their head. Don’t go far enough and people will wonder what the point is of making the book interactive.

But I think just like we’re seeing with other books, we’ll see more publishers look to make fiction novels more interactive. I think it does have to be applied intelligently. And some books with some historical connections or a lot of locations might lend themselves better to this approach. But the right facts, background and extra details here and there can make the experience work well and deepen the engagement of readers. I don’t expect we’ll see all the classics get the ebook treatment overnight, but Immerseditions shows that it can work for new novels.


7 Responses to “Interactive ebooks take on fiction novels”

  1. Frank Fiore

    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.