On Salon.com, Laura Miller takes a look at the current crop of interactive, “enhanced” books and discusses some of their major shortcomings. The problem with these books, she points out, is that the interactive “bells and whistles” can distract from the actual storytelling:

I sat down with my iPad to read “The Yellow Submarine” with a friend’s 7-year-old twins, and within 10 minutes, we were embroiled in a conflict that captured the central, nagging problem with the enhanced e-book concept. Desmond liked playing with the interactive features — the digital equivalent of the tabs and flaps in a paper pop-up book — although few of these could steal his ongoing fascination away from the iPad’s system-wide “pinch to expand” feature. Nini was aggravated by her brother’s pinching, tapping and swiping, and shouted, “I’m trying to read the story!” (Neither one cared much about either the music or the videos, incidentally.) Instead of a cozy interlude of reading, we had a fight.

For some of the books she discusses, children’s books (because those are the ones that tend to get the most bells and whistles added), the apps come off as more like movies or games than books.

She also looks at three enhanced versions of an adult story, the Sherlock Holmes tale “The Speckled Band”. She thought Vook’s, equipped with video mini-documentaries, was interesting but she found no compelling reason the films should be interspersed with the story rather than available separately. The BookTrack version’s background audio track was either distracting or ignorable. Byook’s was the most enjoyable to her, as it included some illustrations, maps, and diagrams that she found actually did enhance the reading experience.

Miller does note that interactivity offers much more promise for non-fiction books, and will discuss them in a further article.


  1. “For some of the books she discusses, children’s books (because those are the ones that tend to get the most bells and whistles added), the apps come off as more like movies or games than books.”

    That is because they are not books. You see Ms Miller , there are books and there are films … and now there are enhanced eBooks. They are something new. Ms Miller needs to catch up with the fact that the world changes. And with those changes, we need to adapt. Naturally older people find it hard to adapt. Hence the whining.

  2. Do a search on Google for enhanced ebooks and you will find that there’s a divergence of opinion on them. The main critique falls into three areas.

    The first opinion states that enhanced ebooks with embedded video, sound and graphics, takes away from the enjoyment of the book because the enhanced ebook intrudes on the reader’s ability to imagine the story in his mind. The very popular Harry Potter books loved by children are used as a prime example.

    This opinion states that any attempt to add greater dimensions to the Harry Potter story telling like the movies takes away from the imagination of the children. But that’s a false argument.

    Sure, when a child reads a Harry Potter book, he or she congers up a vivid picture in their mind of the characters and environment in the book. Those critics hold that the movies made from those books somehow take away from that imagination process.

    But if that were true, how do you account for the hundreds of millions of dollars each book in the series has generated as a movie? And most of the audience for these movies are the children that read the Harry Potter book.  The children enjoyed both versions of the story telling and it did little to take way their imagination of the story.

    Of course, the professional handling of the book material by the movie studio did the story justice. As in anything creative – it has bee done well.

    The second critique of enhanced ebooks comes from those that say the imbedded multimedia and extended material interrupts the reading experience. They claim, rightfully so, that the embedded video, audio and links to the Internet within the text interrupts the reading of the book. But if one places the ‘whistles and bells’ out side of the flow of text, in lets say in the margin, and can be turned off at will, this   marginalia can add to the ebook’s use. 

    The third critique has nothing to do with the reading experience. It has to do with economics — the cost of producing enhanced ebooks. This is a valid critique. It does cost more to produce an enhanced book. Thus the retail cost of the ebook is higher than the traditional ebook.

    But a solution to that. Make the enhanced book apps  FREE by having ads in the app just like for any other app we today. The advertising supported ebook app  pays for the production of the ebook.

    For an example of this type enhanced ebook, download a free enhanced digital ebook app at https://market.android.com/details?id=com.trapdoorbooks.cyberkill

  3. An interactive reading experience you may enjoy is The Survivors Immersedition. Its interactive experience is completely un-invasive and incorporated into the text. It looks like a regular ebook, but throughout the text are over 300 watermarks that display various types of relevant content like music, maps, historical documents, fashion photos, music videos, commentary, mythology, and more…

    Chris, hope you’ll check it out… you can go to our website for a few videos about the app!

  4. This may be as lot like what faced the movie industry when sound was enabled. Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer” was first and took the safest path with more music than dialog. Eventually, they were able to tell a decent story using dialog.

    New technologies often degrade the experience at first while artists come to grips with their potential and slowly, gradually align them with artistic goals.

  5. I am somewhat reminded of the use of subtitles as “another character in the film” in the movie Nightwatch, but it is worth noting that it stands out because it was so exceptional. We should at least be reaching the peak reading experience in electronic books before pushing hard for something else entirely.

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