Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Morning Thoughts

An announcement first. The winner of the writing prompt contest will be announced later today. We apologize for the delay, but several of our judges are fighting deadlines right now and are running behind. So, check back later this afternoon or this evening to see who won.

As I sit here this morning, staring at the computer screen and trying to figure out what to write, a lot of things pop into my head. I could do a follow-up to the on-going debate about Greg Mortenson and Three Cups of Tea. Or there is the Borders bankruptcy and their "need" for another $50 million in financing even as they give their executives bonuses. Or there's the latest insanity -- the witch hunt in Pennsylvania where a group of parents are trying to force a teacher to choose between teaching their little darlings high school English or continue writing erotica (see here and here).

All of those are good topics. They just don't call to me this morning. So, with your indulgence, I want to expound on something Sarah commented on in her last post.

One of the questions she addressed was if e-books are "merely paper books transformed to electrons". It would have been easy to answer "yes" and go on from there. Instead, Sarah brought up the so-called "enhanced" e-books we see advertised in the iBookstore and, to a lesser degree, at Barnes & Noble. For those not aware of what these "enhanced" e-books are, they are e-books with active hyperlinks, video, author interviews, etc., included with the book. Think of it as the director's cut of a DVD. You get the book plus all these extras.

I'll admit, I'm torn about the enhanced e-books. Part of it is as Sarah said. Someone clicking a hyperlink and navigating away from the book may not return. If they don't return, they don't finish the book. If they don't finish the book, they don't buy my next book. See the problem?

The enhancements such as hyperlinks and embedded video might work for non-fiction works, especially text books. I know having that sort of reference at the touch of a finger in college would have been wonderful. However, I don't want it for my fiction. Either the writer has crafted a story strong enough to pull me in or they haven't. Adding music and video and links will only distract me. I shouldn't have to hear the theme from Jaws to know the main character is in danger. The words on the screen should be enough. Remember, the words paint the picture.

Mind you, this is coming from the girl who loves tech toys. Maybe that's why that particular question struck me. I've spent a good part of this past week looking at tablets -- no, not the iPad or the new Galaxy Tab. As much as I'd love to have either one, they are outside of my price range. So I've been doing my research. Part of that was to look at the Nook Color. Here's a tablet most folks will think of as an e-book reader first and that led me to think about enhanced e-books.

My question is if these enhanced e-books will last or if they are just a flash in the pan. My gut feeling is that they will last, in some form, for textbooks and reference books. But I don't think we'll see them long term for fiction. This is simply because the latest figures I've seen about people who actually read using their iPad are dismal. I'll bet if a comprehensive study was done, that would be the trend for all tablets. People see them more as computing devices and not as reading devices. But it is actually more fundamental than that. Enhanced e-books cost more than regular e-books and we all know about the controversy surrounding e-book pricing. Will readers willingly pay more for a book with an author interview and active hyperlinks than they will for "just" the book? Will enough readers do so?

Who knows? All I can say is that it will be interesting to see where things go from here. Fingers crossed it's "interesting" in a fun way and not in the proverbial "may you live in interesting times" way.


C Kelsey said...

I think they might last in the form of media tie ins. For example you're reading the DaVinci Code and you can watch the trailer for the movie or see a bit of a History Channel documentary. That is, for them to really last they need to generate revenue themselves and not *just* be some novelty extra item on your ereader.

Larry Atchley, Jr said...

Interesting concept with interactive books, but like you said, you don't want to pop the reader out of the story. I agree it would be great for Non-fic. I am shocked that so few people are using thier pad devices for reading e-books! If I had one, that would be the first app I'd download. The kindle app for mobile devices is free after all.

MataPam said...

I expect the dismal figures are just a matter of the unfortunately high percentage of people who don't read much. Regular readers are probably happier with gadgets designed with reading as the main use, and may not bother to add the app to other devices.

Now, that doesn't mean we have to accept the status quo.

What sort of bait do you use to lure non-readers? Probably very brief. Probably multiple special categories. Brief Cozies? Flash Romances? War stories. Tall Tales.

There are some interesting possibilities around.

Synova said...

I had thought that music tracks or illustrations were an obvious application.

My Nook lets me look up words, and if they aren't in the available dictionary (which happens often enough when I'm reading Georgette Heyer or Eric Flint) it gives me a prompt to look the word up in Google or Yahoo.

So far I've never not gone back to the book.

I think that I'd find hyperlinks annoying. I read Pride and Prejudice (I never had before) and it had links to footnotes. I found those annoying in the text itself because I kept thinking "Oooo, I wonder what they felt necessary to say about that?"

For some reason that's different than when I see the word valetudinarian and use the touch screen to look it up. (My grandmother was a valetudinarian and no doubt would have traveled to Bath for the waters.)

sanford said...

I'm afraid that "enhanced" books are the way things will go. I prefer my input in the written form. Therefore all books will become these "enhanced" pieces of junk. I an see it now. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" >>>Pictures of the locations in revolutionary France.<<<>>>Video of Dickensian scholar discussing his views on Victorian society<<<>>>Video about stylistic remnants of the Victorian age on today's fashion<<<>>>latest Fashion show from Milan<<<>>>more utter garbage<<
Where is my copy of A Tale Of Two Cities? OH well there wasn't room for it :(

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I can see how C Kelsey's idea would work. A documentary at the end of the books or an interview with the author would enhance the reading experience.

Embedding links in the text would only work for non fiction, where you are looking up references. So these Enhanced E-books will have their place.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, you may be right about the media tie-ins, but that is more of a novelty than something that will, imo, drive major sales. I really don't see enhanced genre novels -- or literary for that matter -- becoming mainly "enhanced" ebooks. OTOH, I do like the ability to follow links to additional information or to see period videos or photo galleries in non-fic books.

Amanda Green said...

Larry, I was shocked when I saw the initial figures a month or so ago. then I saw another study this week, a newer one, and it not only confirmed what I'd read earlier, but actually said the number of people using their iPad to read on was smaller than first reported. How much of it is because most folks are buying the iPad as a secondary computing device or as a gaming/video device, I don't know. But I have a feeling that has a lot to do with it.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, I don't know that it has much at all to do with the number of people who are reading. My take on it, from the studies I've read to the iPad owners I've talked with, is that is it more to do with the device itself. It is bigger and weighs more than most e-readers.

How to entice non-readers? The bells and whistles might do it. But the real key is keeping the readers we already have. And that is where bells and whistles, at an increased price, may be counter-productive.

Amanda Green said...

Synova, I love the built-in dictionary on my Kindle and that, to me, is just like using good ole Websters when reading a print copy of a book. It isn't something that is apt to turn my attention away from the story -- unless, of course, the word is absolutely the wrong word for what the context calls for.

Hyperlinks, otoh, drive me crazy in a book. I've seen some fiction stories and novels with links embedded in the text to take you away from they story and into either an image gallery or explanatory text. Not footnotes, but sites built about what the link is. That completely throws me out of the story and usually makes me want to throw my kindle or my laptop across the room.

Amanda Green said...

Sanford, that's why I will always hang onto my favorite books in print format. I love e-books, otherwise, I wouldn't work for an e-publisher. However, I also recognize some of the pitfalls the industry faces. Putting in too many bells and whistles is one of them. Are we selling books or entertainment units? I want to sell -- and read -- books. Especially when it comes to fiction. Leave the bells and whistles for the movies.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, I agree with you about non-fiction. As I said upthread, I would love it if some of the non-fiction books I've read had that sort of linkage in them. For fiction, however, I think they will wind up being more along the lines of "special" or "limited" editions. Most people won't consider paying more than $12.99 for an e-book ($9.99 is usually the price point where readers say "no"). Asking them to pay $17 or more for an e-book isn't going to be a major moneymaker for publishers.

Stephen Simmons said...

I like some of the places C Kelsey's idea could lead to. As Yogurt put it: "Moichandizing! Where the *real* money is made ..."

The problem I see is that I'm only one sort of artist. I write. Turning a book into a multi-media exerience would require several different types of talent working together. And when you're done, what do you have? It's not really a book anymore, but it isn't the movie that it will make everyone think of, either. In the end, to me, it feels like the parabolic-mirror-based "solar backyard grill". Just because things *can* be combined, doesn't necessarily mean that combining them will be a good idea.

Amanda Green said...

Steve, may the Schwartz be with you! I love that movie.

As for combining media types, you're right. I guess my nightmare is having the book, a comic book (nothing wrong with a lot of them. Believe me, I've read more than my fair share), background music, in-text links and videos. In it all, the story gets lost. I may be wrong, but i can see so much going wrong here.

Synova said...

I would prefer illustrations that are in the text, not linked to the text. Though something like the collection of portraits of historical figures involved in Eric Flint's Ring of Fire world.

But the thing is, if you're connected you can google Gustavus Adolfus simply by selecting the name. It doesn't need a hyperlink.

But I wouldn't mind if I "turned the page" and got to see an illustration as part of the text or as a chapter heading or something.

Amanda Green said...

Synova, I love illustrations IN a book. That has never thrown me out of a story. But going outside of the e-book for them, or to suddenly have someone talking to me as I'm trying to read, well, that's a bit too much. For me at least.