US publisher SourceBooks has developed a new range of interactive e-books for Apple devices based on William Shakepeare plays that it believes could help answer the problems publishers have faced over so-called "enhanced" e-books.
Described as a "multi-touch product", the Shakesperience has been produced using Apple's iBooks Author application. Each play will sell in the US for $9.99 and in the UK for £6.99. The first three plays - Othello, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet - are released today (2nd October), with Macbeth to follow in November, and Julius Caesar and Much Ado About Nothing coming in the New Year.
Each iBook combines audio excerpts, video clips, photographs, text, glossary, articles and a touchable interface that attempts to bring the play to life, and allows for a richer Shakespeare experience. There is also an embedded glossary for students uncertain over certain words or phrases—in the case of Othello this includes 1,400 definitions, while the Hamlet glossary has 2,200.
The e-books are based on the text of SourceBook's print series, The SourceBooks Shakespeare, but the company said they had been re-imagined for digital. Dominique Raccah, SourceBooks chief executive and publisher, said: "We could have just taken those physical books and put them into digital format, but we didn't want to start with the content. Instead, we asked what problem could we solve for the reader, or the educator, and then go back to the technology to look at we could do. This is the result, it's the best work we've done."
Raccah said the iterative process—which took two and half months longer than anticipated to get perfect—had allowed the publisher to work through the previous problems publishers had encourted around enhanced e-books - specifically how to make the enhancement useful.
"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. For example, our embedded glossary and audio will help students more quickly build their ability to understand Shakespeare’s language." The iBooks also feature performances of Shakespeare—Hamlet, for example, includes audio performances by Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir John Gielgud; in Romeo and Juliet, Dame Judi Dench; while in Othello, there are historic readings by Edwin Booth and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Each play also includes scene-setting introductions by Sir Derek Jacobi. There are also embedded photos of productions, set renderings and production notes – Othello includes photos from Orson Welles’ 1951 production in London.
Raccah added that she expected the iBooks version to outsell print copies in the future. "We suspect enthusiasts will love it, but what we’re most excited about is the impact it will have in the classroom; that is, how Shakespeare is read, learned, enjoyed and experienced. I think it will replace the physical copies of the books, because it is a better experience, and students and educators will go for that better experience."