Why Did Interactive Ebooks Never Catch On?

From BookRiot:

It’s taken for granted that an ebook will be almost indistinguishable from its paper version. You could change the font or text size, sure, but you aren’t getting anything that couldn’t be achieved in print. But reading text on a screen offers a lot more options: when reading lengthy online pieces, we expect to have embedded images, videos, and hyperlinks mixed in with the text. Click on a Wikipedia article, and it’s a very different experience from a paper encyclopedia, if just for the links. You can get lost in a never-ending proliferation of tabs. Paper books don’t usually invite this non-linear reading experience, and ebooks copy this system.

. . . .

So why did interactive ebooks never take off? Why can’t I check out an interactive version of my favourite book, where there is an embedded playlist, so I hear the same music or bird songs the characters are listening to? Why don’t my textbooks all come with interactive illustrations that can be rotated and disassembled? Why isn’t there an ebook of House of Leaves that is even more immersive and claustrophobic? Where are the ebook gifs, I ask you?

There’s an excellent Wired article by Steven Johnson that I recommend called “Why No One Clicked On the Great Hypertext Story.” In it, Johnson describes how in the ’90s, with the growing possibilities of the internet, “hypertext fiction” became not only possible, but seen as the future of literature: a pick-your-path story for the digital age. After all, the internet makes the navigation of these kind of stories a lot easier. This technology opened up a lot of possibilities for storytelling. Decades later, we have come nowhere near realizing that potential.

For hypertext fiction, there are were a couple of problems, and they can be expanded to interactive text in general. For one thing, they were incredibly difficult to write. A story that can be endlessly reshuffled in its parts to combine into new stories is a lot to demand of an author, but even the most basic of interactive ebooks requires additional work to finding the right words. Imagine if authors not only had to craft their world, but also provide Pottermore-style interactive illustrations for each scene, and select the perfect soundtrack.

Even when you have all the component parts, it’s a whole other layer of difficulty to make an interactive ebook work. Right now, most interactive ebooks are available as their own apps, because the most popular ebook apps don’t support interactive formats. And if you’re going to be making an app, you need to be able to code.

There’s a lot more demanded on the reader’s end. You have to find and download each individual book’s app . . . . If they are truly interactive, these ebooks also require more from their readers⁠—which was another problem with hypertext fiction. Most people picking up a book don’t want endless ways to read them, and don’t want to pause partway to play a mini game before they can read the next chapter. For the most part, we want our books to be linear.

This isn’t to say that interactive ebooks don’t exist. There are some, but they have not come anywhere near to being mainstream. They aren’t available as a format next to the audiobook and standard ebook option.

. . . .

[I]s the simple, text-based format of books a feature, not a deficit?

. . . .

At their best, books become invisible. They are the means by which we dive into a story, and once we are invested, we stop even seeing the words in front of our eyes. We don’t register that we’re reading. We’re transported. An interactive ebook may end up being less engaging than the plain text version, because it creates a barrier to losing yourself in the story; it makes it harder to forget that you’re reading.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG suggests linearity in books is a feature, not a bug. He suggests the human brain is constructed to absorb, retain and analyze information in a linear form.

Beginning, middle and end is not the only way stories can be constructed or recounted, but it is almost certainly the most common story form. Flashbacks can be interesting, but, ultimately they’re not usually satisfactory (at least for PG) unless they contribute to an understanding of a character or story at the time when the story, in the main, is taking place.

For the record, PG doesn’t characterize stories that begin, “When I was a little girl . . .” and end with something like “And so, I’ve always remembered to be kind to all animals.” as a flashback so much as it is a story that takes place in the past with a bit of a frame on it.

PG also doesn’t have a problem with the linearity of two parallel stories taking place at different times with the narratives jumping between past and present so long as they are linked in some way that creates a satisfying experience for the reader. However, if an author tried to combine an episodic telling of the stories of Charlotte’s Web and The Cat in the Hat into a single narrative, PG doubts that a result more satisfying than reading each story by itself would be delivered to the reader.

PG also poses a question. He understands there is a concern with substantial numbers of young people who seldom read for a variety of reasons including poor schools, addictive videogames, unlimited television, etc., etc.

However, is there any real evidence that children who receive a decent education that includes reading and have the opportunity to read outside of school are not enjoying the experience and continuing to read as they grow older? In other words, is there significant and reliable evidence that stories told linearly, beginning, middle and end, are no longer satisfying for such children?

Or, perhaps, PG is entirely out of touch and wrong as can be?

Telltale Games Lays Off Majority Of Staff, Begins Process Of Shutting Down

From CinemaBlend:

Over the last six years there has been a huge resurgence in story-based point-and-click games all thanks to Telltale Games. The company got eyes with the return of Sam & Max but it turned heads with the first season of The Walking Dead. The follow-up of The Wolf Among Us kept fans hanging on for more content from Telltale Games, and with successes like Batman: The Enemy Within, many thought that the company was going to be making headway toward bigger and better things, but alas it was not meant to be. After swapping out the CEO, restructuring the entire studio and culling a lot of properties from the line-up, things still didn’t turn around for Telltale, and now the company is shutting down.

Telltale Games


Over on the official Telltale Twitter account, the company announced that it was letting go of all its staff, save for 25 employees who will stay on to finish work on open projects. _US Gamer is reporting that everyone who was let go from the studio did so without severance pay. As for _The Talking Dead: The Final Season, the second episode is due to drop on September 28th, with the remaining episodes scheduled to arrive before 2018 wraps up. However Variety is reporting that it’s “uncertain” if the remaining episodes will release as scheduled.

. . . .

Additionally, there’s no guarantee that Telltale will shut down indefinitely. It could be one of those situations where the studio is looking for an angel investor or another buyer who will pick up the intellectual properties currently under the company’s developmental deal with the rights holders. This could be a reason why Telltale signed on with Netflix earlier in the year even though the company was in dire straits. Sometimes having valuable IP under the belt helps improve the overall valuation of the company and makes it look worthwhile for potential buyers.

Of course, this is all assuming that Telltale won’t just file for bankruptcy and sell off all of its remaining properties in the process.

This all comes after a studio restructuring last year in 2017, in which Telltale laid off 25% of its staff during a restructuring.

Link to the rest at CinemaBlend and thanks to Felix, who says Telltale’s “generally acclaimed games were everything tradpub dreams to turn interactive ebooks into” for the tip.

I Tried All the Scary Stories Apps and Found the Best 7

From Book Riot:

If you live, eat, and breathe horror like I do, then the thought of carrying scary stories with you everywhere you go probably sounds like a dream (or nightmare) come true. Thankfully, with the advent of smartphones, that nightmare has become a reality. New scary stories apps are popping up all the time. Search the app store for scary stories right now, and you might be overwhelmed with the options.

So, horror fiends, I have done the dirty work for you and screened a bunch of scary stories apps so I could bring you the best.

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2. Cliffhanger

I like apps like Cliffhanger because these are text message-based stories that include a Choose Your Own Adventure element to them. I’m never exactly sure how much of an effect my choices have in games like these (that would involve playing them over again and I just don’t have the patience for that at the moment when I have 5,000 other scary stories apps to get through). But at the very least, the illusion of choice makes me feel more invested in the story and more involved in the scary stuff happening on my screen. And the more you feel like you’re a part of the story, the scarier that story feels.

3. CreepyPasta

If you’re into scary stories and you haven’t discovered the world of Creepy Pasta yet, then I don’t know where you’ve been but it’s time to get on board. Creepy Pasta has permeated every part of internet culture. My husband thinks it’s a little weird that I listen to Creepy Pasta stories at night to fall asleep, but it’s a thing and it’s called “Sleepy Pasta,” so I’m not the only one who’s into it. There are podcasts, YouTube channels, and of course wiki pages dedicated to Creepy Pasta stories, so it should come as no surprise that there is a Creepy Pasta app too. This app is very well organized and easy to navigate. I love how you can save stories to your favorites and mark them as read. Maybe one day I’ll make it through all of them?

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Bring on the browser books

From The Bookseller:

I’d like to start this month’s editor’s musings with a personal rising-from-the-ashes anecdote.

One of the other jobs I juggle alongside my role at FutureBook involves being Digital Editor for PHOENIX, a six-year-old fashion and culture magazine. At the core of PHOENIX is a bi-annual print magazine: 200-odd pages of long-form journalism on high quality paper with really nice smelling ink.

It’s essentially a mini book.

Ever since PHOENIX began, we’ve continually questioned what – if any – sort of digital presence the mag should have. How could we use digital to enhance, but not replicate, our physical hero product? How could we use digital to pull in new readers, whilst ensuring they converted to print sales? How could we create digital content of the same quality we’re known for in print – but with a tiny team on an even smaller budget?

Yep – essentially the same questions that preoccupy the big-book trade.

Two years ago, we thought we’d come up with the answer. We launched PHOENIX’s monthly counterpart, The Manual: a digital-only, custom-created magazine cradled within a bespoke app. It was interactive. It was beautiful. It was timely.

It was a huge mistake.

Why? It seemed like such a brilliant idea at the time. But we soon came to realise that, while apps are great for functional services such as Uber or banks, they’re pretty useless when it comes to publishing.

From a reader’s point of view, downloading an app is a surprisingly big barrier to entry. Not only do you have to wait a few seconds to install the app and another few seconds every time you want to download each new issue, you have to reproduce the whole process every time you want to read on a different device. And, if you want to launch an external link, its’a clumsy process that takes you outside the app – and out of your closed story-garden into a wilderness of distractions.

From a publisher’s point of view, producing and distributing content via an app is a total pain – from creating complex InDesign files to working with frustrating external shopfronts such as the Apple Store. And it’s useless for SEO.

. . . .

Last week, Simon Rowberry wrote us a very popular – and polarising – piece called ‘Is the e-book a dead format?’ In it, he explained the growing interest around Portable Web Publications (PWP), “a self-described vision for the future of digital publishing based on a fully native representation of documents within the Open Web Platform.” His cautionary note – ” how will books cope in the complex attention economy of web browsing?” – is worth listening to.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

A Case for Multimedia Storytelling

From Publishers Weekly:

Interactive multimedia storytelling is probably older than recorded human history itself. The famous cave paintings of Lascaux, for example, date from about 17,000 years ago. While we do not know their exact purpose, one can easily imagine a narrator or shaman using them to describe a successful hunt or enact a ritual. Holding a torch, the narrator walks along the walls, recounting a sequence of events, in a kind of early form of cinema.

. . . .

Today, we have interactive digital narratives, also known as video games. This relatively new form of interactive media has evolved into a mature form for the presentation of narrative, and may well represent a possible future for storytelling.

Why should this be interesting or relevant to book publishers? Because it is worth knowing what readers are into these days. According to a 2015 Pew internet study, about half of all American adults play video games: 50% of men and 48% of women play them, and about 10% consider themselves to be gamers. Mary Meeker’s highly regarded “Internet Trends 2017” report describes video games as more engaging than popular forms of social media such as Facebook and Instagram, driving an increase in deep engagement in “an era of perceived disengagement.”

. . . .

The first thing to know is that digital interactive storytelling has matured in recent years. The depth and quality of the writing and emotional experience in some games rivals the best literary narratives—and some are even drawn from them. The international hit Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, for example, is based on a series of novels by Polish novelist Adrzej Sapkowski, adapted for the game medium by developer CD Projekt Red’s Jakub Szamalek.

Second, despite book publishers’ fears that mobile apps are a form of digital distraction, taking readers away from books, interactive digital media can actually drive readers toward text-based storytelling. Twine, for example, bridges the gap between interactive fiction and gaming; it’s an open-source software tool that allows users without programming expertise to create and publish interactive stories. Twine has become so popular that it has begun to be noticed by book publishers. In many ways, it is the digital offspring of the popular Choose Your Own Adventure book series.

Because Twine is free and does not require coding skills, it has become a platform for writers who want to try their hands at interactive fiction. Many Twine games are composed entirely of text. Some are also visual, but in many cases, a branching narrative composed of text is the final published product. As this shows, gamers are open to and interested in text stories.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly