The e-book bubble

<p>When is a book not a book? A great many people much cleverer than me have been arguing about this recently as agents and publishers come to blows over &quot;enhanced e-book rights&quot;. As I understand it, you take the basic text, jiggle it about so it will fit on an iPhone, add music, an author interview, perhaps some animation and what you have is . . . well, that's the point. &quot;The definition of the book is up for grabs,&quot; said John Makinson, c.e.o. of Penguin. And he should know.</p>
<p>As an author, my first thought is &quot;What's in it for me?&quot; So I ring my agent, suave and reasonably well-informed Robert Kirby at United Agents. First of all, he surprises me by telling me that my publishers are already developing an enhanced e-book version of the graphic novel of Alex Rider using something called ScrollMotion, which turns the books into something very close to a film. &quot;They aren't books. They aren't films. They've crossed over into . . . something else.&quot; Robert makes it all sound very Twilight Zone. Should I be pleased? &quot;As long as the rights have been acquired from you and you've been paid, that's fine,&quot; he says, adding that the new formats will surely help attract new readers. So everyone's happy. Right?</p>
<p>I'm not so sure. The sudden rush of Kindles, tablets and readers strikes me as strangely illogical. Reading is supposed to be in danger, in decline. And yet somehow these devices are going to make it more attractive. Isn't that a bit like putting sat nav into a horse and carriage? And although thousands of e-books have been sold, do you know anyone-&mdash;anyone&mdash;who actually uses the bloody things? I've tried. But they're not fun.</p>
<p>I can understand the success of Jamie Oliver and his 20-minute recipes which became the number one application on the iPhone. And with 40 million of these devices in circulation, I can see the attraction for publishers. But storytelling, fiction, demands a deeper, more tactile interaction. And I don't necessarily believe that enhanced e-books will reach a larger audience. Quite the contrary. </p>
<p>If you can zoom in on Alex Rider, manipulate him and dance with him to the music of Nick Cave (who pioneered the e-field with <i>The Death of Bunny Munro</i>), then why bother just reading him in the first place?</p>
<p>&quot;It's all small beer to be honest,&quot; Robert Kirby tells me, performing one of his customary volte-faces. &quot;Enhanced e-book rights could be the Betamax of 2011.&quot; And that's good enough for me. Call me old-fashioned or just call me old. But you can keep your <br />
e-book ancillaries. Stories are enough for me.<br />
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