Ebooks in Transition – Enhanced Ebooks

The increased use of tablets and decline of print sales show that more and more people are reading digital versions of books. This allows the book industry an exciting new opportunity to create digitally enhanced versions of texts which can be educational and entertaining. However, for most publishers and in most cases, enhanced ebooks – with added features like video, audio, interactivity and more – haven’t really taken off and many have already claimed that enhanced ebooks are already dead.

But with the amount of recent successful enhanced ebooks, apps and games, there is clearly a call for something more than the current version of an ebook. Kate Pullinger thinks ebooks are “not a very good copy” of print books: a “transitional technology” that will be “more webby” in future. And with organisations springing up like  The Book App Alliance (a new association that seeks to educate parents and teachers about how to find and use quality digital book apps) helping to strengthen the quality of book apps and also promote the best of them, it seems that enhanced ebooks are far from dying. 

In 2009, Dan Franklin, digital publisher at Random House, produced The Death of Bunny Munro which was one of the first literary apps that featured videos of its author, Nick Cave, reading the novel. “Saying the enhanced ebook was dead was a little like saying that a child would never learn to walk because when it started to walk it fell over a few times,” Franklin says. The Death of Bunny Munro is an example of an app that works, basically an integrated ebook and audio book but it works, the text is not interrupted but it gives you something more. The Jack Kerouac On The Road app is another great example, the app offers the same kind of illuminations that melville house add to their print books but all the information is contained in a beautifully designed app.

“There are some things have been done that readers don’t want or need,” thinks Henry Volans, head of digital publishing at Faber, “but probably some of that is necessary for people to experiment.” He says it is “when something is too much a hybrid that people get confused”.  He uses the example of the failed enhanced version of John Buchan’s popular detective novel The 39 Steps. Having played this app I found that it turned a short, exciting novel into a mundane series of useless tasks that added nothing to the storyline but left me feeling bored. They failed to capture the excitement behind the original text and rather than adding to the story, they made it confusing and slow. However, Faber have also produced one of the best literary apps I have seen to date of T.S Eliot’s The Wasteland. The Wasteland app has been an outstanding success and it is clear why, the app provides annotated text, original manuscripts, audio recordings of Eliot and others reading the poem, performances and more. The enhanced ebook is far from dying, there are many exciting things to come but publishers need to understand what readers want from their text and produce exciting products that reflect this.

You can see the Guardian review for the The Wasteland app below: