Dec 28, 2012

Enhancements… of the literary kind

I was listening to Podmentum, the podcast of the Momentum publishing crew in this episode they discus enhanced books and Joel Naoum’s article here, which was formed from a speech he’d given earlier on Digital publishing.

And it’s got me thinking.  I agree with much of what Joel says. 

My argument is basically this: the colourful and exciting part of digital publishing innovation is – for the most part – not something that readers actually want.

Pushing the boundaries of what a book is – whether it’s by blurring the lines between different kinds of media or questioning the linear nature of traditional narrative – is not something that people are looking to book publishers to provide.

Too much of what we call innovation is basically turning our content into a showroom for device manufacturers – and we do it to the detriment of more important and more useful innovation at the back end of the publishing business.

I think what is required is what works for the reader, how publishers/booksellers can support the reader and to really question the need to become embroiled in the IT cycle of upgrades every 6 months.

My Kobo Vox has died after 11 months ( a topic for another post) and although I will get a replacement I am sorely tempted to get a more basic ereader, with a longer battery life and usage, something dedicated purely to reading.

In the Podmentum cast they talked about the Game of Thrones enhanced ebook which has apparently has a drop down map that you can reference at certain points in the story which shows you the location of the characters at at that time, character bios that pop up when you highlight a name( handy when you are reading GOT) but the problem is that these features are inconsistent i.e. not appearing everywhere in the book (IIRC, I listened to the cast a month ago).

All well and good but you also have to determine if your device can support the features, what the enhancements are (publishers seem to be absolutely shit at advertising the features). 

Are the enhancements worth the development cost?

I have seen little evidence outside of self publishing gurus like Joe Konrath, of taking advantage of the virtually unlimited space that ebooks offer the written word. I haven’t yet seen additional extras in the form of collaboration notes between authors, or deleted “scenes”, or concept artwork penned by the author, or interviews.  Including novellas or short stories exclusive to ebooks for example seems an obvious extra selling point to me.

I think there is value in concentrating on the lowest common denominator, assuming the reader has an entry level device and then giving them extra value that they can access.

Sure nearly everyone has a smartphone but embed a book with multimedia bells and whistles and that $5 ebook comes with extra charges in the form of telecom fees.

DRM is another issue, it’s still a pain in the ass for those with disabilities for example (i.e.  Text to speech software generally requires that the source has no DRM), or for anyone who doesn’t want to break the law and remove it.

So in summing up my thoughts and making some sense (hopefully) I would like to see:

  • Low cost ($70-100) and reliable readers (ie life of 5 years)
  • No DRM
  • ease of access to books regardless of geographic location
  • extra value that enhances the written word and doesn’t distract you from it
  • helping readers find quality work (some publishers websites.. *shudder*) through including social media strategies & podcasts

These are the things that I think publishers can work or collaborate with others on. Some of these things Momentum are doing and I think they are on the right track.

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