The Economist, on Enhanced eBooks

Enhanced ebooks are still very much a topic for debate. Will readers want, and be willing to pay more for, the added content in enhanced ebook editions ? Maybe. So far, not really. The Economist (“Truly Moving Literature”)* gives a handy overview on some of the most interesting enhanced ebooks.

Granted, not all ebooks should necessarily be enhanced ebooks. It’s a matter of form fitting content. But for some types of books, that layer of interactivity and rich content does doubtless have the potential to add something unique and worthwhile. Many (but not all) of the most interesting enhanced ebooks thus far have been nonfiction books. Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality on the iPad, which has gotten well-deserved rave reviews, is a prime example.

And what about fiction and literature enhanced ebooks? Faber and Faber’s iPad edition of The Wasteland is by far one of the best we’ve ever seen — and there’s news of a Faber and Faber Shakespeare enhanced ebook on the way, too.

Enhanced ebooks occupy a funny sort of position between book/non-book: “The labels attached to these hybrids reveal the tension at their heart. They’re not exactly books, but “amplified,” “enriched” — even “interactive narrative” experiences.” They’re either app-like ebooks, or book-like apps. Or, something else. For example, the ‘enhanced edition’ of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones feels more like an ebook with some kinda/sorta neat bonus features (map, hyperlinked glossary). But, Penguin’s “Amplified and Enhanced” edition of Kerouac’s On The Road is something of a different species — with documentary video, digital archives, and carefully selected supplementary content, with an impressive offering of features. It’s one of the best recent enhanced literary ebooks. For fans, it’s worth checking out.

With enhanced ebooks, there is a lot of experimentation going on. It’s exciting for readers. Be sure to check out Between Page and Screen. It is, if nothing else, a really, really creative idea:

“Coupling the physicality of the printed page with the electric liquidity of the computer screen, Between Page and Screen chronicles a love affair between the characters P and S while taking the reader into a wondrous, augmented reality. The book has no words, only inscrutable black and white geometric patterns that — when seen by a computer webcam — conjure the written word. Reflected on screen, the reader sees himself with open book in hand, language springing alive and shape-shifting with each turn of the page.”

*Thanks J. Raimo for sharing this article with me


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

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