Enhanced E-Books

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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