A Look at Enhanced eBooks

The other day, we took a look at Al Gore’s Our Choice enhanced ebook, from Push Pop Press. I felt there were a couple of other enhanced ebooks worth a closer look at.

For one, there’s The History of Jazz from 955 Dreams, an interactive timeline, which does a splended job of packing in interactive content such as images, audio and video into its design. As far as enhanced ebooks go, The History of Jazz is more of a coffee table variety of book, if one were to think of it as a book. But 955 Dreams raises a good point: “Reading a book on Jazz is like learning how to fly a kite indoors. The subject is rich with characters and music that a traditional book does not do it justice.” There are limits to how much you can get out of reading a book about jazz or looking at pictures; jazz was meant to be heard, and experienced through hearing. The best part for most users (readers?) is likely the curated music list of Essential Songs, Essential Albums and over 45 hours of video content, which provides a compelling way to experience the evolution of jazz. (here’s a link to it on iTunes)

TechCrunch reports on the success of The History of Jazz, which might certainly portend future partnering of book and music content. The 955 Dreams co-founder reflects on how the experience of listening to music taps into a different psychological or emotional from that of reading a text: “Emotional experiences around music are so fulfilling. If you create those experiences, people will buy music again … You pay for the experience, not the music,” (TechCrunch:955 Dreams Plays The iPad Like Jazz”). And the folks at GigaOM (“Can Tablets Resurrect the Album? One Start-up Hopes So”) wonder if this could be more than just a story about a neat ebook, but perhaps a new form of music publishing. Interesting. Here’s some video of the iPad version in action on YouTube.

What might or might not constitute an enhanced ebook is certainly a topic up for debate. To that end, The Wall Street Journal provides a survey of recent major publisher efforts: “Testing Enhanced E-Books.” The focus in this case is upon the recent Mickey Mantle biography from Harper Collins, “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood.” This approach to enhanced ebooks, to borrow a metaphor from another medium, is something akin to the DVD extras you’ll find with movies. The enhanced edition of the Mickey Mantle biography in this case includes audio and video content, including an unique video analysis of The Mick’s right and left handed swings. (Here’s a link to the enhanced edition on iTunes)

Along similar lines, Mashable has a brief article on Scribner and Simon & Schuster Digital’s enhanced ebook effort with Nixonland (Mashable: “Traditional Publishers Release Enhanced E-books for iPhone and iPad”). In this case, the enhanced ebook version of Nixonland treates multimedia as something along the lines of “bonus content” to the ebook itself. The video content, which does inclue 27 video clips of Nixon history taken directly from the CBS news archive, stands alone from the book itself. You can find a link to the enhanced version of Nixonland at iTunes here.

In keeping with the U.S. History enhanced ebook theme, there is also an enhanced edition (or “vook”) of JFK: 50 Days, which has a similar commingling of historical video content to supplement the book itself.

While it’s mostly been nonfiction that we’ve seen get the recent enhanced ebook treatment, fiction books have at least some presence. Penguin created an “amplified version” of Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth. I’d sure be curious to see what the reader response to this has been, because in terms of pure features and added content (video clips, music, an interactive Character Tree, and multimedia Diary from Ken Follet) the amplified version of The Pillars of the earth is potentially kind of cool. Me personally, I’d probably read the old-fashioned book version first before the amplified version, but that’s mostly for the same reasons that I would prefer to read a book before see any movies based on it. Check out the Penguin website for the amplified version of The Pillars of the Earth here.

To be sure, there’s varying degrees of enhanced ebookness.The major publishers are in something of an arms race at the moment to crack the code of what might be the next big thing in ebooks. So,stay tuned.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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