Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Multimedia and reading enjoyment

"Multimedia scares me off." - Michael Nesmith

As usual, one of the OPBs (Other Peoples' Blogs) I read today really got me to thinkin'.  Once again it was Rachelle Gardner's fault; she wrote a pretty interesting post in response to an article on Wired.com.  Again, as usual, I'm not gonna repeat all of it here, but please check out the stories at the following links (and then come back):
Wired.com article: Publishers Hustle to Make E-Books More Immersive
Rachelle Gardner's response: It's the End of the World as We Know It

Frankly, it flibberty-gibbeted me how many respondents to the RG post came out with the sentiment of "a book is a book is a book, even if it's an e-book, and don't you dare put links in the way of my plain text reading enjoyment." 

I don't get it.

First of all, it's quite an assumption to say that links in an "immersive" ebook will look like links on a web page do now.  Fact is, you can make a link on a web page look like anything you want.  Most of the time we use text, as I did above, but you can use squares, or stars, or blobs, or whatever you wish.  Future programming might even put links to "immersive" content in the margin, well out of the flow of the text, if that is what the majority of the customers want.  Granted, the Big 6 publishers aren't exactly known for caring what the majority of their customers want, but that's a whole different issue.  My point is that it's too soon to assume that active content will get in the way of reading in the traditional sense.

Anyway--figured I'd bring my response over here to see what y'all thought of the issue:

Somebody else already mentioned that the immersive experience is here to stay in academic publishing. ’tis true; the e-books I work with in my day job do this quite natch. Then again, an academic customer will pay $100 for a book and think he’s getting a bargain.

I’m going to take a different stance from most folks on this, much as it pains me to do so. Most of the current technologies, many of which replaced competitive tech, wasn’t “needed” when it came out. Nobody needed the sound clarity of CDs when they replaced vinyl. Nobody truly needs a camera or a GPS or a web browser on their cell phone, either, but how often do you see a cell phone available that doesn’t allow for the snapping of beautiful pictures of our puppies and babies? We–even us old pharts–buy the enhanced technology not because it’s something we need, but because it’s cool, and it’s something we can buy. For–the most part, anyway.

Back to the subject at hand, I am also one who loves the feeling of sitting back with a paperback in hand, letting the story play out in my brain as I read it from the page. Lately I’ve learned to love the feeling of sitting back with my cell phone in hand, letting the story play out in my brain as I read it from the Kindle emulator. Do I need the enhancements the article describes Havard bringing to her book? Nah. But would it be cool to have the music playing in the background? Sure. Another example is that in the genre I mostly read and work, fantasy, authors seem to love to create character names that are impossible for the human mouth to pronounce (e.g., Leg’l'thr’rpfphi). Sure would be nice to have an interactive pronunciation guide to the silliness. Would also be nice to have an interactive search feature, like what exists in my work docs, to go back through and find the last time I saw a character mentioned, because my brain is getting old and–um, what was I saying? Oh, yeah–and additionally, adding the functionality that made Zynga worth hundreds of millions of dollars (have your friends read this and I’ll unlock a chapter, or some such) is, frankly, brilliant. If, that is, your goal is to sell books.

Will be interesting to see what happens to pricing over the coming years, with or without immersion technologies but especially with. Including a camera on a cell phone increases the cost to produce the device, but the marketers have found an indirect way to pay for it. At the same time, one funny thing about ebooks, immersive or not, is that the unit marginal cost is zero–all cost of production is sunk well before the item goes on the market. Does adding sound files or moving pictures, then, HAVE to increase the cost of each book? I suppose we’ll probably see in the near future.

So, what do y'all think on the matter?  Should I keep my paws off the text and keep it "for reading only," or start considering and looking into how to bring more active content to my own books? What, if anything, would having "immersive" content, as described in the Wired article, do to your expectations for pricing? 


(Edited to change my quote out of the really annoying italics I initially put it in.  Italics are fine for short pieces, but they hurt my aging eyes when the bit is too long)

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