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Should Authors Drive Enhanced E-book Innovation?

By Edward Nawotka

In today’s lead story about RAND Corporation’s publishing program, RAND marketing director John Warren says, in reference to enhanced e-books: The author has the vision; the publisher has the marketing perspective. He goes on to say that the motivation for producing an enhanced e-book really starts with the author. Do you agree?

Current publishing contracts may be a disincentive to producing enhanced e-books.

Certainly, it sounds reasonable, especially considering it is the author who knows their material best. But there are several other factors involved — starting with the way an author gets paid — that need to change before e-book innovation takes off. The major issue, I believe, is that current publishing contracts, to my knowledge, don’t incentivize additional work that needs to be done to produce enhanced e-books. What’s more, authors themselves are typically contractually responsible for securing rights — to music, photos, film clips, or whatever else might be included. So, in a sense, there’s a disincentive for an author to push for “enhancements.”

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7 Comments

  1. Posted January 18, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    There are several points in the article. But enhancing a book may easily do more than adding zoom and indexing.

    I am currently involved in enhancing one of my paper titles, and it’s quietly been morphing into something new entirely.

    The non-fiction project has earned itself a new name ‘Alien Quest’, but in terms of additional cost, much of the extra material arrived as part of the original research.

    The title will be ready soon, so the issues are becoming effective marketing and whether to publish under an ‘Alien Quest’ imprint, or partnership with an existing publisher.

    Interested parties, sign up now!

  2. Posted January 18, 2011 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    It will be for authors outside the comfort zone of the traditional writer/publisher relationship to develop new and dynamic storytelling forms.

    A quote I read the other day reminds that (I paraphrase) “at the outset, it was assumed that motion pictures were simply filmed stage plays”. We are at that stage now with enhanced e-Books.

    But somewhere out there is an Eisenstein or Pudovkin.

  3. Posted January 18, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Edward’s ‘several other factors’ are what we need to think about: how we get paid, as he says but, just as important, how we bring our books to market. The net is already brim-full with self-authored books, most of which, let’s face it, are not good. Every one of them is screaming for attention. The reader/buyer can’t easily distinguish the professional writer from the unpublished wanabee, the readable from the crap, and our job is going to be to help them do that. Easily said but, so far, by no means easily done.

  4. Posted January 18, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    There have already been two significant experiments with enhanced e-books (actually, e-books that go well beyond just enhancements and embody the vision of a multilayered document set forth by Robert Darnton in his 1999 NYRB essay on “The New Age of the Book”: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1999/mar/18/the-new-age-of-the-book/). These are the Gutenberg-e and ACLS Humanities E-Book projects, both funded by the Mellon Foundation. I wrote a post-mortem on the Gutenberg-e Project, which is available here: http://www.psupress.org/news/SandyThatchersWritings.html.

  5. Posted January 18, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    I don’t believe in enhancement, being one of millions forced to sit and watch advertising shoved into our faces every day on television. A book is a book is a book. When a reader buys a book he/she has the expectation that it is all they are going to get. The author may opt to produce a podcast of the book, or the publisher may, but I don’t see the need to alienate readers by stuffing extemporanrous sludge into the file. The most I do is to insert the link to my website and that is it. I produce my own files and I am one of those self-publishers who believes in the dictionary and standard rules of grammar. I cannot be held responsible for the perception that self-published work is inferior to traditionally published books or ebooks. I am struggling to be read among the piles of badly produced work from both sides of the issue, so you can’t blame the process for the inferior quality.

  6. Posted January 19, 2011 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    I absolutely believe that authors should be able to make a contribution to enhancing e-book innovation. If innovation arises from the same mind that also creates the narrative in an e-book, the final product will be all the better for it. I think the creative process of writing could lend a lot of fuel to how/in what ways e-books can be innovated. It doesn’t necessarily have to occur in the mind of the publisher alone, and e-book innovation doesn’t necessarily have occur as a matter of the overall packaging of a book.

  7. Karen Zukowski
    Posted January 24, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m an author that’s ready, willing and reasonably able (I believe) to write books that would have
    “enhanced technologies” woven into the structure of the final product. I’m an art historian, wanting to write narrative non-fiction with images. From where I sit, the art book market is in turmoil. Everyone knows the new technologies are the way of the future, but the path is strewn with roadblocks. Between technological quagmires and securing rights to publish images in untried media, it’s a minefield. No wonder publishers are reluctant to innovate. I believe that authors are ready, but the market is so unformed, it’s going to take a while for innovations to appear.

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