A hot-button topic in the e-book world is the idea of enhanced e-books, books that combine text with pictures, hyperlinks, and videos. Certainly, this would be similar to the Internet, where people routinely read articles with a video embedded at the top, photos in the middle, and hyperlinks throughout to other articles or information. But is that what readers want in a book?
I think there are certain areas where enhanced e-books might make sense: educational reference books or textbooks, with diagrams or videos of the subject matter; cookbooks, with videos showing how to cook the dish and links to buy ingredients or cookware; or history books that include photos or videos of famous events. But what about for fiction?
Publishers seem interested in bringing “enhancements” to fiction books, by adding videos of author interviews, links to online content, photos, or other “bonus material.” I think publishers are seeking to create “special edition” e-books that they can sell for more money to replace their hardcover business model.
But is that what readers want in their fiction e-books? I, for one, am not really interested, especially if those bonus features (which will cost something to create) are used to justify hardcover-like e-book prices of $20 to $25. I read books for their words, and don’t want videos interrupting my reading. If I liked an author enough to want to see extra content and interviews, I’d just hop over to their website, where I’d expect to find photos and that sort of thing for free.
It reminds me of the “CD-ROM” craze of the 1990s, when publishers spent a lot of effort and money trying to bring enhanced versions of books and bring bonus video and features to games, music, and other products. It turned out that customers didn’t really want those enhancements, at least not enough to pay extra for them.
This discussion also highlights the current state of technology in e-book readers and highlights the differences between black and white e-Ink (that’s easy on the eyes) and color LCD screens (that can show video and such), and the difference between a Kindle and a tablet computer like the iPad. Kindles are really just focused on displaying text: they can’t show color photos or videos, and, while they can connect to the Internet, it’s not a great experience. The iPad, on the other hand, seems designed for interactive, enhanced e-books, as it can play video, show color photos, and easily link to the Internet. For enhanced e-books, something like the iPad would be the way to go. But is that what we need for the majority of fiction novels?
I suppose I can see some places where “enhancements” might arguably be useful. A nice photo of a map in a fantasy novel, for example (although Kindles handle black-and-white photos just fine). Links back to the author’s website or Amazon to buy the next book in a series (which the Kindle also handles OK). What about links peppered throughout the book? What if a character’s name were hyperlinked to a web page about them, with photos, a description, maybe even other short stories about them? What if that info wasn’t online, but was embedded directly in the book (maybe a new window pops up, and you go back to your book when you’re done)? Would that be useful, or just distracting?
Certainly, I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that just because books exist a certain way today, that’s the best possible way for them to exist. Those enhancements didn’t exist before because technology didn’t permit them, not necessarily because they were a bad idea or unwanted by readers. For example, we didn’t have e-books before, but I enjoy their added convenience, cost savings, and features. Would the same be true of videos and links and other e-book enhancements?
I tend to think not. The difference is that e-books still allow readers to immerse themselves in the author’s words, which, to me, is the essential part of the book-reading experience. I was never swayed by the argument that the physical object is what’s important, and I never “missed” the smell of glue or the “feel” of paper. My Kindle gives me the same words, but in any font size I want, with a built-in dictionary, and I can get new books in 60 seconds, save money, and carry an entire library with me. And there aren’t any extraneous distractions like movies, animations, or Facebook alerts. Enhanced e-books would interrupt the reading experience that I enjoy — the act of getting lost in a world of imagination based only on words — and that’s not something I’m interested in.
But what do you think? Are you interested in seeing videos and links in your fiction e-books? Do you want extra “bonus features,” even realizing that they’re not free and would increase the cost of e-books? Would you find an embedded video or link to extra content useful, or distracting? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments, below….