Maybe the Book Doesn’t Need to Be “Disrupted” in the First Place?

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From Counter Craft:

A dozen years ago, I was out of grad school and desperate for a job. (Ideally one I could slack off in while I wrote my novel.) I ended up in the offices of a tech startup that had big plans to use the emerging tech of ebooks to innovate, amplify, revolutionize, and fundamentally disrupt the entire concept of books! The exact name of the company doesn’t matter. There were plenty of them. “Enhanced ebooks” were buzzed about in every newspaper and VCs were tossing millions at anyone who could put “gamify” and “publish” in the same sentence. The future was here, and these radical techno-books would make Gutenberg look like a troglodyte.

How would books be revolutionized? That was less clear. Mostly the plan seemed to be adding pop-up videos and images to ebook files. You could be reading The Great Gatsby and click on the sentence “a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock” and see what a green light looks like I guess.

It seemed silly to me. Beyond a few specific types of books—a high school history textbook, say—few people are looking to have their reading experience constantly interrupted by pop-up videos. It’s distracting enough reading with cellphone text notifications going off. The last thing I want reading a novel is to pause mid-chapter and watch a video clip.

Perhaps my face showed my skepticism. I didn’t get the job. But 12 years later—a lifetime in tech—and the book is in more or less the shame shape it was 12 years ago or 120 years ago. “Enhanced ebooks” went nowhere. Ebooks themselves certainly exist, but despite all the hype about new fancy features most ebook readers—themselves a minority of book buyers—want their digital books to resemble printed books about as closely as possible.

In the intervening years, I’ve seen countless versions of enhanced books hyped. Last year, there were articles about how “web 3” and crypto would completely change publishing by [something something string of jargon] block chain! All the magazines publishing daily articles on Web 3 and NFTs have stopped talking about them, seemingly in embarrassment as the crypto space has been exposed as a series of Ponzi schemes.

. . . .

So naturally everyone who, last year, was declaring crypto would revolutionize every aspect of life have pivoted to saying “A.I.” will revolutionize every aspect of life. And, like the tweet above, that means lots of predictions about how the book will be disrupted. (Commenters to the above tweet also suggested putting books in the “metaverse” so you can “live” books instead of read them, whatever that means…)

Link to the rest at Counter Craft

PG has a long-neglected post category on TPV for Enhanced Ebooks.

He created the category several years ago when there was lots of buzz from a variety of locations predicting enhanced ebooks would sweep over both traditional publishing and self-publishing.

PG just checked in the TPV archives and found he hasn’t applied the Enhanced Ebook post category for since 2019 and that tag was for a post titled, Why Did Interactive Ebooks Never Catch On?

He used the Enhanced Ebook tage 3-4 times in 2018 and decided he wouldn’t dig into the super-deep archives to check on prior instances of Enhanced Ebook posts.

PG posits a few reasons for the Enhanced Ebook flame-out:

  1. It’s a lot of work to write a book that consists of words on a screen and spending a lot more time doing whatever meaningful enhancing that might strike an author’s fancy is likely to take a lot more time to avoid the lame/fail tag, thus preventing the author from working on the words for her/his next unenhanced ebook.
  2. Talent in using a word processing program to put words on a screen and hard drive is quite a bit different than creating illustrations, find the clue games, etc., so the large majority of successful/semi-successful indie authors would have to recruit someone else to do that sort of thing. PG expects that, just like the author of the words, the author of the enhancing would generally like to be paid for his/her/their work.
  3. For a traditional publisher, enhanced ebooks look like another cost item on the profit/loss spreadsheet which the big bosses in Europe would never approve. Plus, nobody ever got fired in publishing for doing the same thing over and over.
  4. There is no accepted standard for enhanced ebooks, so what sort of devices/apps will need to be developed for enhanced ebooks and do you grandfather in PG’s 2015 Paperwhite ereader or an iPad that’s five years old, or various versions of Android, etc., etc.?

PG posits that creating a sophisticated and usable enhanced ebook authoring program and testing that program with all the electronic devices in use and developed in the future that people would want to use to create Enhanced Ebooks and also engineering the apps, etc., necessary for readers to have a decent experience reading it are not going to happen unless a brilliant tech zillionaire is willing to spend the money to create a sizeable company to build the necessary tools, infrastructure, etc.

Would enhanced ebooks compete with video? If so, there’s a huge number of organizations that are already pouring bazillions of videos online.

PG has gone on for too long about this subject and will stop before Mrs. PG asks what he’s doing in the basement this time.

13 thoughts on “Maybe the Book Doesn’t Need to Be “Disrupted” in the First Place?”

  1. The only enhancement I’ve ever wanted in an ebook is a dictionary for words I don’t know and maybe a translator for non-English words. Bookmarking and search would be nice…. oh wait, we already have all those things.
    I was always of the opinion that if I want to read, I’ll read. If I want video or audio, I’ll move to a different entertainment source. I don’t need everything to be multipurpose and multifunctional.

  2. I have a CD by Alan Parsons and another by Peter Gabriel that had all sorts of added material, which is no longer supported by any system. It actually hangs my computer if I try to access that material.

    An ebook, with text, will be supported for decades. I hope.

    BTW, I tried OneNote years ago and was shocked to see that none of my work was stored on my local drive. The whole system is based on the cloud. I live in Santa Fe, and the fastest connect speed is 1mps.

    Plus, to have Adobe work I have to constantly be logged on to access it, even though I have a “standalone” version. If my internet goes down, I can’t work.

      • OneNote came with Office last time I bought Word for Mac. I thought, oh, this looks fun, and started using it. Then discovered that none of what I did was on my local drive. Even now, Word wants me to log on when I use it. I will have to transition fully to LibreOffice because all these new programs are forcing people online and subscription, rather than offline and local.

        I just now went looking for the Browser version of OneNote and the only way it will let me work is if I create an account and log in. That’s not going to happen.

        Plus, it looks like they are discontinuing OneNote already. Yikes!

        I need something that lasts for decades not a brief few years.

        That need for longevity is already presenting a problem for me. My iMac is from 2013, and they are no longer supporting it. That wouldn’t be a problem but Mac is once again transitioning away from Intel chips to their own chip. The new iMacs make no sense to me. I have external devices that I need: scanner, DVD burner, drives, etc… and I don’t see how to plug them into the new iMac. The picture for the new iMac is ridiculous. The guy is sitting there using it as a terminal with no apparent access to the internet, no TimeMachine drive for backup, etc… The guy is clearly not actually doing anything productive.

        I see no reason to buy an M1 iMac if it will be obsolete right out of the box. I need a machine that will last at least a decade. The next iMac will be an M3, in 2024? Hopefully my system can keep going that long.

        The reason I need to stay on Mac is all my files need to be readable. The iMac treats files differently than the PC does.

        I think I have to get an external device like a hub or docking station to be able to hook everything up to the new iMacs. Every device I have has the regular USB plug, that will not fit the tiny USB slots. So what’s the point of having a system that requires that everything useful be external.

        Grumble, grumble….

        • One Note isn’t being discontinued.
          It is being consolidated into one app because for a while there were two versions for PCs, coded with different tools:

          In november MS uploaded a video highlighted 6 new features being added for “insiders” to test before they get added to the general release version. A sigh it is still under active support.

          Local files in windows are usually stored in a file store in C:\Users\\Documents\OneNote Notebooks, then synced to your OneNote online so they can be accessed from any version of OneNote.

          The Mac may store the notebooks elsewhere.

          • Googled it.

            “Mac OneNote’s notebook real files are not saved on your local hard disk. The notebook for Mac OneNote is saved on The caching mechanism is used locally. New, modified notes are saved in the cache file before being synchronized to to store.Nov 26, 2019”

            Oh, well.

  3. Enhanced ebooks were always a dumb idea, outside possibly some niche uses. Even if we stipulate to readers wanting this stuff, it can only add to the cost of creating the book–likely vastly so, since those video clips need either to be produced from scratch, or rights obtained. This can only make commercial sense if either readers are willing to pay much more for the book, or the added stuff will bring in many more readers. Neither proposition was ever plausible. Books are not movies. Making book production costs more movie-like never made sense.

    And even for those niche uses such as textbooks, what we have here is the hyperlink. The teacher who wants to show a video to expand on the text, or the student who wants to see a video to expand on the text? YouTube is free.

    The AI hype cycle is similar to the enhanced ebook cycle, but the underlying issues are different. AI’s selling point is that it can produce text cheaply, and indeed it can. The questions are how good is this text and how much better will it become. The first is clearly being oversold. The second is the more interesting question. I see no evidence that it will any time soon become good enough to take the human out of the loop for any operation trying to be at all good.

    • Agreed about “enhanced ebooks”. Fact is, they aren’t books in the mainstream sense.

      However, faux AI is a different creature.
      The media may be hyperventilating over “cheap text generation” from GPT3 but that is a sideline at best and a stunt at worst. The real value of the text is in things like this:

      “With intelligent recap in Teams premium, you’ll get automatically generated meeting notes, recommended tasks, and personalized highlights to help you get the information most important to you, even if you miss the meeting.”
      “With intelligent recap, you can now save time spent reviewing meeting recordings. AI-generated chapters divide the meeting into sections so it’s easy to pick and choose the content most relevant to you. This is available today for PowerPoint Live meeting recordings. Intelligent recap will automatically generate meeting chapters based on the meeting transcript as well.”

      “In addition, there may be particular points in a meeting that you want to revisit. Available today, personalized timeline markers—that only you can see—call out when you joined or left a meeting in the meeting recording, so you can quickly click and listen in on what you missed. Personalized timeline markers will expand to include when your name was mentioned and when a screen was shared.”
      Microsoft also highlighted a feature that is already available: Live translations. With Microsoft Teams Premium, users get “… AI-powered real-time translations from 40 spoken languages. Meeting participants can read captions in their own language, saving money and making meetings more productive and effortless. Only the meeting organizer needs to have Teams Premium for all meeting attendees to enjoy live translations.”


      Note how the value isn’t in generating text but in “understanding”/recapping/paraphrasing/reorganizing *audio/video* of what was said in the meeting.
      It’s a corporate time saving tool, not a homework cheater for students. No money in the latter.

      Also: translates 40 languages in real time.
      Surely makes you wonder if it “speaks jive”. 😉

      Also anounced yesterday: MS is incorporating version *4* of the GPT tech into their BING search engine. Timeframe: months. All the angst over v3 and 4 is starting to deploy.

      The ride is just starting.

  4. Enhanced reader software would be far more useful than an enhanced eBook. Quick assembly of multiple files made up of any number of selections from the text would be very helpful in technical and non-fiction.

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