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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Enhanced EBook of Prophecy: Thumbs to the Sky or Down in Shame



So here's another example of the enhanced eBook, that David Farland says is to be the future of eBook publishing, the way to find the "good books". You have "electronic publishers" select those worthy books and set 'em up fat. He's even starting his own company to produce these enhanced eBooks. By investing money in the book and author, it will both signal the quality of the book and provide added value for the reader. Like a stamp of approval.

And it scares the hell out of me.

Sure it looks great for non-fiction books -- you can have direct links to sources, video, maps, etc. But how do you that for a fiction book? The creative process is going to be so much more involved.

1) Where is all this production going to come from? There's only one author who writes a book (two on rare occasions). And that author produces all the material that goes into the book. Most writers aren't programmers. I'm lucky to be one, but I've seen iOS programming language, and it looks hard. Plus the fact that you have to pay Apple an arm and a leg to develop for the iFormat. So all that work is going to have to be outsourced. It's not just book cover artists and typesetters anymore. Now you've also got musicians, artists, programmers, animators, video producers, multimedia gurus, UI designers, QA testers, application developers, all making a single unit of creative work. Which leads to my next question...

2) Is all this going to detract from the book? You start adding cooks and you spoil the soup. Once there was a pure path between the written word and the brain. You saw one person's vision, unaffected by anything else, other than English grammar rules. That's what was nice. And the book was always customized by your imagination. There is one writer communicating with one reader. Now in order to get a reader's attention, I have to put up a circus?

I mean, granted, it would be pretty cool to have the characters look at an art piece that plays a part in the plot, and then be able to see said art piece, or hear the music that's playing. But is that link also going to forward you to iTunes where you can buy that music for $.99? Will my kids look at paper and ink and think its the equivalent of a rotary phone? Hell, how am I going to read books to them if the words are drowning off the page?

3) Is this going to change the way authors write books? If I'm writing a novel, do I have to keep in mind where a video could go? Where's a good time for a song? I'm not writing a musical here, I'm trying to tell a story. I'm trying to tell a story in the same way that people tell stories around a campfire, or at a party, or in the car. There's no music there, no videos to illustrate your sources or enhance your world. And if I'm writing a fantasy novel, I can't just link to a Roy Orbison song. Someone's going to have to create all that.

I admit, it'd be fun as hell to see a story that I write have all that fun multimedia that goes with it. But it also drives the price up. Plus, my book is now judged on the quality of all those people who worked on it, not just my own writing. It's not just my content anymore, it's also the content of two schlubs who've made a few YouTube videos and a garage band.

I don't like this. No sir, I don't like it at all. I fear all this change. I fear that eventually books will get to the point where there's no point to try and write one. Only the "geniuses" will be able to. I fear only the special books, hand-chosen, with video games and soundtracks inside will get ratings (because they're easy to enhance, not because they're good). I fear that publishers will betray their authors and result in a collapse of a medium I love so dearly.

And my biggest fear is that my fears will be realized -- enhanced eBooks drive the price up, but aren't worth it. Instead of being synergistic, they don't equal to the sum of its parts. It just makes the book a jumbled multimedia mess, like the first CD-ROM games.

Are we talking about the birth of the eBook here? Or the death of the book?
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