Enhanced (Augmented?) eBooks

Source: The Economist, Feb 2012

Multimedia enhancement will still affect only a tiny proportion of new titles. Children’s books were first to get this bells-and-whistles treatment, but adult fiction has proven a harder sell. Few readers have been willing to pay more for extras at the back. While ordinary e-books continue to eat into print sales, a British experiment with adding author videos and other material to best-selling novels, called Enhanced Editions, was quietly abandoned last year.

Yet for certain kinds of book, such as biographies, cookbooks, literary classics and newer forms of interactive fiction, enhancement can add rich and startling new layers. Penguin’s forthcoming biography of Malcolm X, for instance, features rare archival footage and an interactive map of Harlem. The life of “Muhammad Ali” now comes with audio clips of him rapping about his prowess. Richard Dawkins’s “The Magic of Reality” (voted best app at the 2012 Digital Book World) and E.O. Wilson’s “Life on Earth”, are cunning fusions of documentary and textbook, with molecules and stories spinning at a finger’s touch.

The labels attached to these hybrids reveal the tension at their heart. They’re not exactly books, but “amplified,” “enriched”—even “interactive narrative” experiences, as in the case of the children’s tale “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore”.

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