Enhanced E-Books
July 29, 2010

Cover of "Nixonland: The Rise of a Presid...
Cover via Amazon

Today, Simon & Schuster is releasing the “enhanced” e-version of Nixonland, replete with all kinds of multimedia widgets and doodads embedded into the text, such as video interviews and news clips straight from the time period which the book covers. The Times has an article up about it and other enhanced e-books, and I have to say that while I’m still first and foremost a print partisan, this is pretty exciting stuff.

I suspect, though, that it’s application is limited. Certainly I can se the use for a sprawling history like Nixonland, especially when it’s about a time following the advent of televised news. In fact, the possible applications for textbooks and nonfiction in general are pretty exciting. But I’m skeptical that the same could be said for an enhanced novel. Take a look at some of the features promised with the first slate of enhanced novels coming out:

Grand Central Publishing, part of Hachette, released an “enriched” e-book version of Mr. Baldacci’s latest novel, “Deliver Us From Evil,” in April to coincide with the hardcover release. The e-book producers borrowed from the film industry and included “research photos taken by the author, deleted scenes from the manuscript, an alternate ending and other special features,” Hachette announced in March. Penguin’s edition of Mr. Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth” comes with video clips from an eight-part television series based on the book.

So … a bunch of vestigial DVD extras and a commercial for a TV series. Not exactly mindblowing stuff.

I suspect there is something artistically interesting that could be done with enhanced text, but that would require writers interested in writing for the enhanced format. I suspect economic factors are going to get in the way, at least for the foreseeable future; publishers want to reach both print and electronic markets, and the books that merit being “enhanced” are mass market best-sellers, a category that doesn’t include most of the interesting, challenging literature being produced these days. And then there’s the matter of budget and production values.

Still, I’m sure some enterprising fiction writer will do something cool with it eventually. Whatever it is, it won’t be a novel, but something else with its own set of possibilities. I look forward to it—what I don’t look forward to is the new round of undeserved eulogizing for print those of us who like our ink-and-paper editions just fine will have to endure.

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Because forming my own opinions is hard
July 31, 2008

On Tuesday I’m going into the city to speak at this New Voices panel in front of a group of Scholastic employees and executives about Generation Z and the future of publishing. Generation Z, for those who don’t know, is the generation born roughly between the mid-nineties and right now. It’s going to be an interesting crowd to watch, I’m told, because they’re going to be the first true children of the Internet age – technologically literate, socially conscious, and globally connected. They’re also the final generation before we officially run out of letters, and their children will probably have either serial numbers or Greek letters. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here’s the dilemma I’m facing right now: I’m on the panel in my capacity as a political writer, both of fiction and non-fiction, to talk about the future of publishing to cater to the aforementioned socially conscious, globally connected kids. And, in that capacity, I feel like just a little bit of a fraud. Who am I to prognosticate about anything? I’m not really an expert in anything particular, least of all publishing. I know what I, personally, would like to read more of – and like any writer, that’s what I try to write – but any resemblance or relation my work may have to some sort of larger publishing zeitgeist is completely coincidental. Mostly I’m just writing for myself.

But then I remembered I have a blog. It’s not a blog that a lot of people read, but some of those readers are people who are smart about writing and smart about publishing. And while I more or less have an idea of some of the things I’d like to say, I’d love to hear input from you guys. If you were a child of the digital age, what would you want to read?

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