Every time I read about enhanced ebooks, one of these two phrases creep up somewhere, and not only are they wrong, but they hold the product type back.
1. “Enhanced ebooks must offer a consistent experience across all devices”
If there is one thing that having an android phone and apple tablet have shown me, it’s that mobile users don’t expect consistency from app developers. Facebook for iPad has a different layout to Facebook mobile. Whatsapp’s interface looks different on Windows phones than for android or iOS- like a native metro app. Many start-up apps (is Peach dead already?) are iOs only, and even in more developed apps, not all features are always available cross platform.
No. We don’t expect constancy. We already know that the price tag on the iPhone includes the fact that apps will be developed for it first, and for all other devices later. Now, imagine if games developers decided that unless a game was playable on every computer and platform, they won’t develop it. There would either be no games, or very basic ones.
That’s what’s happening to enhanced ebooks right now. Trying to make a product for everyone means no one gets a good product, let alone a great one. You don’t need to cater to every e-reader out there. It just creates deeply average products, and people don’t pay extra for average.
Which brings us nicely to point #2…
2. “Enhanced ebooks don’t sell”
This is like saying that because Pompeii bombed in the box office, that 3D films don’t sell. As much as I like watching Sasha Roiz, Pompeii was an underwhelming film offering with 3D effects tacked onto it at the end.
Similarly, enhanced ebooks are still too often just regular ebooks with a few embedded videos and audio files, so unless it’s a language learning, music learning or similar ebook where having audio and visuals embedded in the book adds real value (imagine having to put down your book, pick up the phone or tablet, or boot up the Chromebook, trying to ignore all the other notifications, download the MP3s or supplementary learning materials, opening them and then switching back to your book. Way too much context switching to learn something) it’s not worth paying extra for.
To get the most value from enhanced ebooks, such that they are worth the extra cost, they need to be planned as such ahead of production – ahead of writing, even- to find a presentation narrative that works for that subject and its audience. And believe me, as a graduate in two STEM subjects, there are so many ways that having those big, heavy course books transformed into something that not only can be carried with you lightly (as the success of loose leaf bindings already show), but can go beyond the often confusing limits of text and static images to really help you absorb the subject matter more quickly, is something you can expect to get real returns from investing in.
These are difficult, kinda scary subjects for undergraduates which their libraries are out of stock off a few weeks from exam time – the exact moment they’re feeling the most insecure about their ability to understand, say, immunology. And who can blame them? Look at this diagram and tell me you wouldn’t pay extra to understand and memorise this within two weeks? Because that’s what you’re really selling – if you plan the product well.
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