Enhanced e-books sound like yet another “wave of the future” that most readers never asked for. Yet it seems that every few weeks, there’s another story where a mainstream journalist waxes poetic about how the future of e-books is enhanced e-books.
Earlier this month, Publishers Weekly announced that HarperCollins was releasing three “enhanced ebooks” for the iPad. These are nonfiction titles that will include added bonuses such as videos. They will be $14.99 each. If you just want to read the book, that’s a lousy price but if you’re interested in the features, it may not be so bad. For nonfiction, the videos could be helpful ways to give examples to readers. (Imagine a cookbook that includes videos of the chef preparing food!) On the other hand, do I really want to pay $14.99 for Molly Ringwald’s Getting the Pretty Back just to watch videos of Molly Ringwald reading her book? Think again.
In terms of timing, Vook.com has HarperCollins beat. They are already selling vooks — e-books combined with video and other features such as social media. According to the description on their site, vooks allow you to read the book and enjoy video that enhances it. they have novels, too. There’s a web-based version, so you don’t need an iPad, iPhone, or iTouch to experience a vook.
Do I want to experience a vook? Sure, if I’m reading nonfiction, it could be useful to watch the added video. One of the featured titles on the site is the vook of the business book Crush It, which includes text integrated with video from author Gary Vaynerchuk, all for $6.99. They also have Seth Godin’s Unleasing the Super Ideavirus, the enhanced version of one of the first business e-books I ever read.
On the other hand, what if I want to read, you know, a novel? For now, the selection of novels is slim. The romance selection consists one book, a Jude Deveraux novella available only as a vook that includes seventeen original videos “that immerse you in life on a South Carolina plantation in 1800.” That’s funny, shouldn’t the novella do that without any help? What if I pay for a vook, only to discover that I find the actor unattractive? Or worse, only to find out that he doesn’t look they way I envisioned the hero? From what I could tell in the trailer, the videos definitely seem to be of professional quality. Still, nothing is better than the human brain, which can imagine everything from shapeshifter romances to space battles.
This is one of those times when I think the executives behind this idea don’t understand readers. If I want to buy a Jude Deveraux novel, I will buy it and read it. No videos needed. Just my brain. Years ago, I read Jude Deveraux’s The Maiden and loved its warrior heroine. In my mind, I can still picture the scene where the hero and heroine fight together, back to back. Even a professional quality video would have ruined it, probably making it look silly. Also, what about paranormal romances or SF and fantasy novels? How are they going to make a vook of a vampire or werewolf romance or a space battle that doesn’t look cheesy? No video will live up to David Weber’s descriptions of space battles in the Honor Harrington books.
But I’m not counting enhanced e-books out just yet. The Sherlock Holmes vook, The Sherlock Holmes Experience, sounded so cool that I ordered it, especially as it was just $1.99.(Take that, HarperCollins!) I’m happy to report that the videos aren’t intrusive. If you prefer, you can just read the story, clicking on a link when you want more information. Or you can click Set the Scene to watch a video. This story consists of fifteen videos explaining the history of the era. There are also hyperlinks to related public domain texts, Wikipedia, etc. My father will love this, and I can see him spending hours learning more about the story’s background just by following links. Still, while it’s fun, it’s never going to live up to Dad’s copy of William S. Baring-Gould’s famous The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. I grew up with this book: two heavy hardbacks with lots of illustrations and loads of footnotes. No amount of videos will teach me as much as that book. A Study in Scarlet had 184 footnotes alone!
The enhanced versions of classic children’s stories such as Alice in Wonderland and Three Little Pigs also look like lots of fun. Still, nothing beats making my poor mother read Are You My Mother?, Dirty Harry books, and Bennett Cerf joke books until I knew the words by heart. My mother and I would recite together What’s big and red and eats rocks? A big red rock eater! A video will entertain a kid for a little while, but no video can capture the essence of making your parent read the same book dozens of times.
– Anne Marble