To enhance, or not to enhance

To enhance, or not to enhance

SourceBooks, the innovative US publisher, is claiming to have mastered the enhanced e-book problem— whereby publishers spend too much money amplifying digital books in ways the reader does not want—by coming up with a range of iBooks based on William Shakespeare's plays: the nicely titled Shakespearience.

So what has SourceBooks done, that some have not yet managed? First, the iBooks have been developed using Apple's iBooks Author application, so although not plain sailing at least they will be cheaper to produce than typical enhanced products. SourceBooks is one of a number of publishers, big and small, that are using the iBooks Author app (encouraged by Apple), despite the terms that means these books can only be sold through the iBookstore.

Second, the publisher has thought long and hard about how to make the enhancements useful: plays are a good area for this, while they are an immersive experience they are meant to be watched or listened too. SourceBooks has sought to replicate that by including video, and audio, alongside production notes, and a glossary for key terms.

As Dominique Raccah, SourceBooks chief executive and publisher, says: "What I've learned is that we were not integrated enough, we didn't need those enhancements enough, but here the enhancements are essential, they signficantly improve the experience. You need to be in an immersive environment to follow the play, and let your curiosity take you to where it needs to go, and provide only enhancements where they help with that."

Raccah is really just tapping into a classic publisher ethos: delivering content that is reader-led rather than device led. The page has always restricted what publishers could do to enhance their books; digital removes some of those restrictions, but doesn't absolve the publisher from making the tough decisions about how best to present a piece of content.