yellow_submarineOn FutureBook, Richard Stephenson has a brief piece looking at the interactivity now possible in iBooks. Since iBooks 1.5 supports Javascript, this means that e-books can take upon themselves abilities formerly associated with stand-alone appbooks.

Stephenson uses the example of the Beatles Yellow Submarine iBook, available for free from the iBookstore, which uses embedded Javascript to add interactivity. He suggests that this interactivity could be a great way for publishers to add additional revenue streams, such as the ability to purchase music from within the Yellow Submarine book.

While I will admit that it’s good to see appbooks that can be read from within the iBooks application, I’m a little worried about what this might mean for market fragmentation. Can other e-reading apps support Javascript in EPUBs? Is it even part of the EPUB standard? Or is iBooks going to be the only game in town for interactive works that don’t have to be installed separately?

I’m also a little worried that publishers will go overboard with these revenue streams. I already discussed the possibilities of product placement in e-books, comparing it to Taco Bell or Pizza Hut’s placement in Demolition Man. And in an online chat the other day, a friend of mine mentioned with consternation that The Hunger Games is getting its own line of designer nail polish. This probably has more to do with the forthcoming movies than the best-selling young-adult novels on which they are based, but can you imagine downloading a Hunger Games e-book and discovering you could tap a link within it to order these tie-in goods? In this age of declining revenues, will publishers be able to resist that kind of temptation?

But on the other hand, maybe publishers will manage to hold onto some common sense, or at least rationally weigh the risks and decide that the chance of additional revenue isn’t worth turning off the main consumer base. Or perhaps we could see some sort of “e-books with Special Offers”, in which people could pay full price for no ads or buy a version with product placement at a discount. And of course there will be books, like Yellow Submarine, where some form of product placement is natural. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out.

(I will note that I didn’t know the Yellow Submarine e-book was free, and as a Beatles fan I’m going to install it myself and see what it’s like.)


  1. The latest EPUB standard includes HTML5, so you can build all sorts of useful functions on that. As I’ve said here before, you only need very basic HTML to refer the reader to iTunes to play, sample or purchase a song or piece of music mentioned in the text (Apple even supplies a link generator webpage, so you can create iTunes links and insert them in your text.) So you only interrupt your reading if you want to experience that music.

    You could have preferences to show/hide links in the text, to show links in an appendix to the text, and include show/hide in Parental Controls so kids aren’t lobbied to buy stuff. It does depend on the text, but when reading the Spike Berenger Rock ‘n’ Roll mystery ebooks, the music was such an important part of the story, I really wanted music links. I’d also love ebook links, so you can check/buy other titles in the series, or other titles by that author. This is really simple linking, so I can’t work out why authors/publishers aren’t doing it.

    In a previous post on in-book linking, I showed how to do it, but the comment system just shows the link itself. *sigh*

  2. ePub with embedded sound files are as greeting cards with music chips to me: annoying. If I want to read, I want to read. Period.

    Is that what the implementation of JavaScript is going to be? A promotional or advertising tool to boost sales of related products? I don’t hope so. That would be more than lame.

  3. “He suggests that this interactivity could be a great way for publishers to add additional revenue streams, such as the ability to purchase music from within the Yellow Submarine book.”

    Buy! Buy! Spend!Spend!Spend! We bought your book because we wanted to READ IT; so why can’t you be satisfied with that? Why, oh why, can’t publishers just leave us alone to read?!?

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