Last winter, before the announcement of the Agency model as the path to ebook price maintenance, some major publishers had acknowledged out loud that enhancing ebooks in various ways would be the way to keep the public paying print book prices for content.
That got me thinking. First I thought about the CD-Rom debacle of the mid-1990s. But then I thought: if publishers are going to be spending time and money enhancing their ebooks, maybe this time around it can be done thoughtfully and knowledgably. And that’s where the idea for Enhanced Ebook University, E2BU, came from.
E2BU is a partnership of The Idea Logical Company and Digital Book World, the unit of F+W Media with which we work on an annual conference. We are providing the content and our Digital Book World partners are providing the hosting, tech, and marketing. We’re delighted that, so far, Aptara and Copia have signed on as sponsors. We’re starting out with three core offerings which we hope the larger community of the ebook-interested will find of value.
Our White Paper, entitled “Enhanced Ebooks Today and Tomorrow: A Survey for Authors and Publishers”, is a soup-to-nuts survey of the possibilities inherent in enhanced ebooks, written for the publishing people, not the geeks. We hired Peter Meyers to write it. Pete is the former editor of O’Reilly’s Missing Manuals series and, as near as I can tell, the person on the planet who has done more thinking about how the ebook experience can be enhanced than any other. Pete was already working on his own project, “A New Kind of Book” when we met. He has written a really solid study, which itself was “enhanced” by peer review from more than two dozen industry professionals.
E2BU will also launch a series of nine webinars for publishing professionals on June 29. The first session in the series will be free. The kickoff program describes the “state of the art” for enhanced ebooks today. In later sessions, we will cover the complex rights issues that ebook enhancements raise, the complications of multiple platforms, the options for and challenges to producing enhanced ebooks, and issues of analytics and marketing.
Our webinar moderator is Kirk Biglione, whose Oxford Media Works advises publishers and others on tech issues. Kirk is also the Chief Technology Officer for the whole E2BU project. Joining Kirk for the kickoff session will be Jessica Goodman of Wiley (who will talk about their amazing How to Cook Everything app), Theodore Gray of Touch Press (behind the renowned iPad app, The Elements), and Rhys Cazenove of Enhanced Editions in London (the creators of one of last year’s most successful enhanced ebooks, Bunny Munro.)
In addition to the webinar series, E2BU plans a special session especially for authors who, we believe, will find it increasingly necessary to know what ebook enhancement is all about and to be preparing material for enhancement as they create their books.
The third offering will be the E2BU Resource Directory. The Directory will be an increasingly robust guide to services on offer to help publishers with ebook enhancement. It will cover app and web developers, software, a/v, development tools, digital conversion, media production partners, DADs, content management services, analytics, and social media/ereading platforms. The Directory will launch with over 100 company listings.
The entire E2BU project is overseen by Jess Johns of The Idea Logical Company, who will take charge of the blog and field what we expect will be many suggestions for more webinars and Directory entries.
So what is a guy like me, who is a skeptic about many aspects of ebook enhancement and who makes a living trying to get publishers to do “the right thing”, doing creating a program like this?
I see signs everywhere that, even though the initial impetus for ebook enhancement — that it would help maintain prices — has receded a bit, the impulse to explore the possibilities remains very strong. Our analysis of publishing’s “shift” includes the observation that format-specific publishing will yield to format-agnostic publishing. Format-specificity was a requirement of the physical world; you couldn’t distribute printed books through the airwaves and you couldn’t embed in a magazine. When content creators and audience owners deliver to their customers through files, constraints disappear. Files can be anything: words, pictures, sound, moving images, amination, games, productivity software. Newspaper web sites have had an explosion of video content in the past few years; reporters are often carrying flip-cams these days.
And publishers are feeling an increased need to master video. On a recent tour of HarperCollins, I was shown the new TV production facility they have in the New York office. They do author interviews whenever authors come in. Last week, Peter Kaufman, a longtime TV and publishing veteran, was explaining his ideas about a holistic approach to video creation for publishers which he believes could save them lots of money and deliver them much higher-quality footage for various uses.
On the same day, I saw the Managing Director of an independent literary publisher in London who is currently hiring a video professor for his staff. Earlier in the week, we had a visit from a game developer who wants to develop game “apps” for publishers built around the characters and plots of books they are already publishing.
In other words, publishers are going to be spending money and effort enhancing their ebooks, whether Mike Shatzkin’s instincts say that’s likely to pay off or not. It would be best if that were a thoughtful process. Publishers investing in enhancement should do so understanding the full range of possibilities and having absorbed an informed dialogue about what their effors are likely to mean to the reader and the author, critical stakeholders who are sometimes a bit inconvenient to consult during development. We’re confident that the whole E2BU program: the paper, the webinars, and the directory, will help publishers make sounder — and less risky — ebook enhancement decisions.
I would add that while all this is going on, I am currently reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on my iPhone and wishing that they’d built in a way for me to identify all those Swedish proper nouns with a click. That would be enhancement I could really go for.