Thursday, February 3, 2011

It's a book enhanced video/audio experience with in-book apps!

About a year ago, I had a conversation with a dear friend about ebooks. A traditionally published and well-regarded historical novelist, she was excited about the possibilities. She talked about embedding links in her texts, providing photos and other details of her research, adding sound and video. I have to admit, as she talked about links and video and audio and photos, I was frowning deeply enough to leave scars.

I said, “If you’re going to add all that stuff to it, why not just make a movie?”

She didn’t have an answer for that.

And now I read about the five trends in epublishing as proposed by Philip Ruppel, president of McGraw-Hill Professional. He imagines “books” with not only video and audio and links, but also the functionality of any computer. Help buttons. “In-book apps” which would allow people to download specific tutorials and lessons on specific subjects. These things sound good for textbooks, but I’ve also heard YA novelists talk about adding specific character playlists to their books, so that readers can listen to the same music as the characters would. I’ve seen reviews of children’s apps that tout the games and the videos over the story.

The Register, reporting on the Frankfurt Book Fair said: “A speaker from publishing-services company Aptara asserted that publishers will need to change the way they think about books, as the very notion of "a book" is morphing. People are busier than ever, information is becoming more fragmented, and books can now contain animation, sounds, and — gasp — hyperlinks.”

And of course there's this, which I've posted before:

(Alice for the iPad)

Yeah, it looks really cool. Awesome, even. But here’s my question: if you’re too busy shaking your iPad to make the watch swing back and forth, are you actually reading? At what point does the functionality detract from the story? How much functionality turns a book into something else entirely: a movie, an app, one more level of Angry Birds?

And most importantly, does it matter?

At the risk of sounding like a luddite, I think it does.

The long-form story has been around for thousands of years, and our collective hunger for them hasn’t abated yet. (Just ask the millions of Twilight lovers). The best thing about a story is the reader’s ability to lose him or herself in the world created by the author and/or illustrator, the reader’s ability to lose themselves in the vivid and continuous dream . How will we be able to do this if there’s a hyperlink/video/audio clip every paragraph? How easy will it be to put excitable children to sleep after they’ve played The Very Hungry Caterpillar app in which the caterpillar goes on a Pac-Man-like rampage?

To ask a question I’ve already asked in the comments section of this blog, just because we have the technology to do a particular thing, does that mean we should? (I mean, why not start adding QR codes to films, so that movie-goers can access websites and order film-related merch while they watch?)

That’s not to say I think we should ignore technology. We shouldn’t. We can’t. But, as creators of children’s books, we have to find that sweet spot between functionality and story, between enhancement and the vivid and continuous dream. Because, no matter what the delivery system, no matter the bells and whistles, we still want books.

Don’t we?

-- Laura


  1. It reminds me of the era when desktop publishing arose, and people went crazy putting 10 different and often unreadable fonts in their newletters, ads, and so on.

    Particularly with fiction, the likelihood of breaking the spell of the story world is very real. Adding media also decreases the role of readers who use their own imaginations to build upon the words on the page.

    For some types of nonfiction, added videos, images, sounds, etc. could be real enhancements. Like so much in life, it all depends!

  2. We're obviously going to be seeing a lot of experimentation in regards to added functionality, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

  3. Agreed! And well-put!

    I think for some people the technology (like the shake and bake Alice above) may actually lead people to read the text. These are people who wouldn't take the time to actually read a big story page after page and are used to bits and fragments of reading.

    But for those of us who read, we won't want all that. It would distract me -- seriously. Or will want it only after we've read the story. I'm doing a historical fiction and I'd love to have an annotated version released with hyperlinks, photos, videos, as well as a straight story version. I think I might be able to sell both.

    I see these as two different customers. I say, do both and let the customer decide what they want to buy.

  4. Huh. Now that's a really interesting idea, to have a straight story version, and an annotated, enhanced version. Possibly at two different price points?

  5. Laura,

    Thank you. You articulated a set of concerns I have been pondering for a long time.

  6. Perhaps the future will have a new definition of what a BOOK is. Our audience (kids) are growing up in a much different world than we did...than my own kids did (Ages 25-19). I think the kids and young parents are going to make choices. Those choices will move this industry and give it direction. I think some applications will go bust and others will thrive. We, fellow Authors - are in for a ride!
    RE: Different versions of the same book...Aren't we doing that- I know I am- I am offering the same book in an App (bells & whistles) and a regular straightforward ebook. I say- have it in all formats and see what happens. Now if I could afford to PRINT the book to offer it as a REAL BOOK!

  7. You're probably right, Maryann, though I hate to think that the definition of the word "book" will include lots of buttons and links.

    And I think that picture book creators are already doing the bells and whistles version and the regular ebook version, but I don't know of any novelists doing that kind of thing yet. (Or maybe I'm wrong. Anyone know of any examples?)

  8. Regarding my previous comment...the direction of the future could lead us right back to the traditional book.

  9. I've been hearing that when a child likes the e-book that they are also getting the hard copy. There may be advantages to having them be different reading experiences.

  10. I actually buy double the books with the Kindle. I've been finding that too! I buy another one if I want to give it away to someone to read, or if I need it as a reference book. I'm telling you, I'm giving MORE money to authors right now.

  11. I'm with Amy on that!
    And here's a weird thing - I had someone email me, quite frustrated that they couldn't find one of my books in their store. They even tried to order it and it didn't come up as available. She wanted to know "Where can I buy this book!" Well, it isn't a book. It was my app, Lula's Brew. And it's not the only email I've received. I really think there is major potential in offering our stories in Both forms! But like MaryAnn - I need to figure out how to do that in an affordable and reasonable way. (Gads, that sounds like self-publishing!) :) e

  12. I know I often buy audio and print versions of books, so this isn't surprising. Good news for us!

  13. Me too -- I honestly have been known to buy a hardback of a book I love for my shelf -- paperback version to lend -- audio to listen to while I'm working (drawing) and the kindle version because I'm in bed and the "shelf" version is all the way downstairs.