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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.