Enhanced ebooks: 'Is That All There Is?'

Enhanced ebooks: 'Is That All There Is?'

"Perhaps we are already discovering that this new world is a touch more fertile" for enhanced ebooks than we thought.  

Or is this wishful thinking on my colleague Philip Jones' part?

His musings on this issue are timely, particularly as they came to us in his Tuesday FutureBook column, The smart book for a new market, before we had heard from Enders Analysis' Douglas McCabe with what might be the darker basso continuo to Jones' lyric baritone leader piece.

Think of them as two lines in a busy duet. Jones is singing the upbeat top line — opportunities seem to be opening for a resurgence of enhanced-ebook potential.

McCabe in Books and the second disruptive wave is taking the dogfight strand — you haven't seen disruption yet, and the only way forward is to innovate, innovate, innovate. 

Would a new term help you think this through? Jones is right that "complex," as Penguin Random House deputy c.e.o. Ian Hudson is calling them, is not a bad one. "Complex ebooks," even just "complex books," inasmuch as just about any format or transmedial construct may be relevant if correctly fit to the content at hand. Such works could be made "complex" by their very availability to such enriched treatment.

We want to know what you think. Come to #FutureChat today and tell us. Have we been too quick to toss aside "enhanced ebooks," "enriched ebooks," "complex ebooks"? Are vanilla ebooks, replications of print, or "print under glass," as Joe Wikert calls them, all we can expect? (No dissing print under glass, by the way, I love a grand immersive read that glows in the dark — ebooks had me as soon as they were backlit.) 

You know what Jones and McCabe are singing, don't you? It's Peggy Lee. "Is That All There Is?" And it sounds to me like both of them are saying, "No, actually, we'd better hope there's more we can do with these things."

This article was written as the walkup to our #FutureChat of 31 July. Join us every Friday for #FutureChat live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

Anecdotal? You bet. 

But while McCabe is icily compelling with his and Joseph Evans' new research indications that "the ebook challenge is now well understood," Jones is sunnily optimistic, saying that the ebook opportunity is not so well understood yet.

And gosh, did I mention this Game of Thrones app from HarperCollins UK that helps you sort out the story according to where you are in watching the show?

Jones talks to Hachette digital dauphin George Walkley and gets a major chorale of support in “considerable growth in apps, especially in illustrated/ lifestyle publishing, and particularly for Octopus, which has recently released the first colouring-in apps in the market and had 15,000 downloads for the Ella’s Kitchen [cookery] app in its first week”.

Ah. Colouring-in apps. Yes, well. Okay, so all the literary firmament may not break into song at this point, I grant you, but those colouring-in apps for our visually inclined friends can pay for my glow-in-the-dark, unadorned Man Booker longlist reads, right? Of course right. Colour me fine with this. Those folks weren't going to read Tom McCarthy anyway ... unless we make the cover of his book a colouring-in exercise...hm...don't even think about it...but I'll have my percentage, thank you, if you try colouring-in book covers on literary work...you read it here first...I'm liking this better and better, actually...great competitions for who coloured-in the best Go Set a Watchman book cover...we'll be rich, I tell you, rich...might need a round of funding for this...

Jones also reminds us that PRH's Hudson "told my colleagues that increasingly an important factor for the digital landscape in 2015 was that vanilla e-books “aren’t the only digital success story” for publishers, with Hudson pointing to its investment in audio and new distribution channels that service the non e-ink markets."

Well audio, yes, we're good with it and we know it's in an expansion phase. Not for nothing did The Bookseller put up its first-ever audio download chart in June. "Hear, hear," as my clever associates murmured.

And, look, you want something that really gets into the soul of a work and creates a "complex" rendition of it through the interactive capacity of digital? Then stand by for the coming Iain Pears Arcadia, as foretold to us by Jones in Arcadia's vision for a new way of reading from Faber. This isn't a digital version of your cookery book, this is "a natively digital novel in how it is written, edited and read," as our friend Henry Volans at Faber has called it. And if you don't know this is exciting, then you aren't paying attention.

As Jones writes about that one:

The publisher provides a hint about how it will work: "The app, presents all of the possible ways Iain Pears could have told the story, and lets anyone become the master of their own journey through the book. Readers can approach it as a series of traditional linear stories; or they can switch rapidly between tales and worlds. They can read, or leave out, sections as they choose. In the app, the entire story is mapped visually, and each reader’s map will become unique as it records their journey." It will be free to download, with in-app purchases.

And in nonfiction, did we not just have Theodore Gray here on Touchpress at five, telling us of all he has built from The Elements?

That one even prompted an aria of my own, Gray Areas: 'The Elements' Of Good Book Apps

I mentioned Joe Wikert. You'll remember Wikert from his years with O'Reilly's Tools of Change, where he was one of the guys to first show us what Ted Gray was up to with that Periodic Table of his. Now with Olive Software,

Wikert has simply never lost his zeal for what might happen if we really went for it in — ready for another alternate term? — "dynamic books." Or "book-plus," as a guest post at his site is calling it this week.

As long as our colleague and friend Rüdiger Wischenbart and his Global Ebook Report (get it free from the Business Club at Frankfurt Book Fair) has joined Jones and McCabe in the gathering anthem, it makes a lot of sense to look at what Wikert and his team are doing with Olive's technology, which was born to animate newspapers online. Wikert, who will join us in The Markets conference at Frankfurt on 13th October and was with us at the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) conference at BEA in May, is one of our most practical thinkers in the potential for enriched ebooks. As he tells us in our own story here at FutureBook, "One publisher who saw this" — Olive's Dynamic Book tech — suggested that "it could help him go from selling a one-time edition of a book to a subscription to a title. The book could evolve over time with additional content that's placed in it."

And Wikert, in turn, is echoing the kind of exploration that Sherisse Hawkins has been doing at  Beneath the Ink, which integrates imagery, video, textual augmentation that the company says works, "from the oldest Kindle to the latest Samsung." 

And our own FutureBook contributor Dave Morris, game designer that he is, has been humming today's tune for so long that he's writing whole new verses of it. In his June piece for us, What's gaming's secret sauce?, he intones the cautionary coda:

It’s not necessarily about grafting gameplay into novels (though more on that next time). Nor is anything gained by mere apery, such as renaming chapters "levels". You could sell truckloads of books, after all, if you made them in the shape of a football somebody could kick around a park. Game elements, when only sutured onto other media like an experiment by Dr Moreau, have their limits. The really valuable takeaways here require us to dig deeper...Humans love stories, and we always will, but media evolve, speciate and go extinct. And so it goes.

And so we go to #FutureChat, hoping to see you there. 

Enhanced ebooks by any other name. Is that all there is? Or should we keep dancing?

Join us every Friday for #FutureChat live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

Main image - GOLD from the quilted edition of Theodore Gray's (Periodic Table of) The Elements, with Nina Paley, PaleGrayLabs.com