Interactive e-books are taking the digital world by storm. However, while recent developments in electronic texts are exciting, the revolutionizing of book interaction is not new. Publish Drive explains,
Even if we don’t count coloring books, pop-ups and all kinds of hands-on books for kids, traditional printed books that allow the readers to interact or change the story some way or another have been around for a while now.
Interactive e-books are mimicking innovations made in interactive print publishing while also creating new features unique to the digital medium.
The new features of e-books increase audience engagement by including media that the reader can play with. Publish Drive continues, “Interactive ebooks come in two major forms: apps and enhanced ebooks.” Essentially the e-books are made for browsing through an app on the web, on a mobile device, or on a desktop, and the app supports the media.
The other option involves creating an ePub file that internally supports all the different media. “Books made this way are called enhanced ebooks, and offer a significant level of customizability. This includes easy to enlarge pictures, embedded video and audio, and excellent accessibility.”
Features of Enhanced E-books
Authors have a vast array of features they can choose to utilize in their interactive e-books. Videos, animations, and voice-overs are popular inclusions. For visual aids, companies like Pearson use interactive diagrams with pop-up labels and definitions, changing infographics, responsive maps, calculators, and other activities that promote visual learning and engagement.
The most salient features though, include supported activities that can usually be found in print books as well. Features such as quizzes, word searches, comprehension activities, and checklists that e-books can generate and check. No more looking up the answers in a guide or waiting for class reviews; the books can do it all on their own.
Two main factors limit the types and volume of additional media that the author can put in their e-books: copyright restrictions and file size restrictions. If copyright prevents the inclusion of videos and other media, then try embedding them. If they block embedding, then link.
Amazon charges a “delivery fee” for some sales based on the size of the e-book, so authors working with them should be aware of that. As Kotobee says, “Otherwise, the main concern with a large file size is happy readers.” Audiences will tolerate large file, i.e. time consuming, downloads for important texts like academic textbooks much more than pleasure texts like novels.
Examples of Enhanced E-books
The interactive e-books on the market typically fall into three categories: academic texts, adult texts, and children’s books.
According to Iltifat Husain, MD, the most interactive textbook on the market is Ganong’s Review of Medical Physiology. The book features pop-up definitions, interactive label diagrams, surgery videos, and extensive annotation capabilities. Pearson’s Biology and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Modern Chemistry also rank pretty high for number of downloads but lack elegance, says Alex Reinhart.
The adult-oriented interactive e-books fit several different genres; novels like The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins and Do or Die by Clark Kokich do well on the market. The most promising entertainment genre though appears to be cookbooks. For example, Look&Cook is an interactive cookbook that includes the usual step-by-step instructions along with voiceover instructions, built-in timers for recipe steps, video tutorials, and emailed shopping lists.
Children’s books typically feature animations and background music like the ones in Two Worlds, One Child’s Heart by Vered Kaminsky and Sparklify the Earth by Sandra Rose Gunn, which Publish Drive’s blog promotes.
Platforms for the Creation and Distribution of Interactive E-Books
Not all interactive e-books have to be coded by hand though. Kotobee offers a platform specifically geared to enhanced text creation through widgets. Flip PDF does the same thing and enables PDF-usable for the initial upload. Apple’s iBook Author, Aquafadas, PubCoder, Atavist, Calibre, and Sigil all offer the same capabilities. Most platforms that facilitate e-book creation will enable enhanced e-books. Platforms for distribution are a different story, though.
Two things determine access to interactive e-books: the device and the distributor. For example, Amazon supports enhanced texts, but their Kindles do not. Kobo tablets support enhanced texts, but leave their apps and other devices lacking. Google Play Books does not support interactive e-books, but Apple iBooks does. Consequently, authors and publishers bear the responsibility of knowing what platform the audience will use.
Success for Interactive Iterations of E-Books
Interactive texts continue to climb the ranks for B2B publishers, students, and casual readers. Map Systems India explains that for students an enhanced e-book “helps them to participate in the learning process, increasing their activities on the platform. For instance, you need not explain them the procedure of completing a task.”
Kitaboo published an article that details all the ways interactive texts surpass regular e-books such as being easier to update and revise. Furthermore, interactive texts provide: more accessibility to readers who may struggle to read a standard e-book; the ability to “link content to additional resources;” and, “Content creators/publishers/institutes/enterprises can set up an assessment for post learning evaluation and even need analysis.”
Kitaboo also claims,
Through the functionalities of interactive eBooks, creators can embed multimedia which makes the content contextually relevant and easier to relate with. Integrating technologies give students an opportunity to learn by viewing 3D models. This adds a layer of information over reality to enhance the learning experience.
Implications for the Industry
Enhanced e-books appear to be here to stay. Snap App says, “This sustained popularity means static ebooks are only going to become more saturated, and readers more numb to them.” Only recently have companies begun to understand how important their digital content is. Reinhart complained about the sloppiness of the e-books publishers are putting out when he stated:
It seems that textbook publishers are only willing to invest effort in multimedia, animations, and interactivity for big intro books—books which will sell tens of thousands of copies to bored students who will generally avoid reading them.
Consequently, good interactive e-books may be far and few between for now, but the ones coming in the future should be truly revolutionary.