It’s the End of the World As We Know It
(And I feel fine.)
Yesterday a lot of people were talking about this article in Wired: Publishers Hustle to Make E-Books More Immersive. You should read it if you get a chance. It’s all about how publishers and authors are looking to adapt to digital technologies (currently iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook) by creating books with “audio, video and interactive components.” They’re talking “enhanced e-books” and beyond, including apps and “complete multi-media experiences.”
There’s a lot of talk about how this is going to be the way to bring in the younger audiences, get them interested in books (or multi-media experiences) complete with interactive components and movie trailers.
As a lifelong reader, I have a couple of thoughts about this. (You knew I would.)
1. It’s the wave of the future and I get it.
I affirm the viability of this kind of approach for many kinds of books, and I agree it could help attract younger audiences, especially those who aren’t currently readers.
2. It’s not “either/or” but rather “both/and.”
I don’t see this kind of approach replacing the true “reading” experience, and I sincerely hope it never does. There will be room for both — the enhanced model, and plain old-fashioned “reading” that, regardless of the delivery system (paper or digital) consists of words placed together in sentences, uninterrupted by videos, music, maps, or whatnot.
3. But is it really immersive?
I question the use of the word “immersive” in this article and the way it’s being used nowadays to describe books that are “enhanced.” When one is immersed in something, one is deeply engaged; their attention is fully focused; they are absorbed. This is what happens with the old-fashioned style of reading, just words, uninterrupted. One can get fully immersed in a story or topic.
But with the new “enhanced” books, one’s attention is necessarily drawn to different places, as the text is interrupted by links, which will then provide music or video or something else. The reader may be engaged in the story or topic, and presumably each link will enhance the story or topic, but the experience is much more fragmented. You already know this from reading articles and blog posts on the web that have links in them — the links, by their very nature, are distracting. It is hard to feel focused. And there is research showing that the links indeed distract the mind and keep it from fully focusing on the topic at hand. Have you noticed that as you spend more time reading on the web, and less time reading uninterrupted long-form narratives, your own ability to deeply focus is shrinking?
So I think this new use of the word immersive is actually misleading. The new multi-media book experience would seem to be more dynamic but far less immersive.
4. Publishers are not dim-witted sloths.
I object somewhat to the portrayal of publishers as somehow stupid or having their heads in the sand for not quickly and aggressively embracing the potential of the digital models. The fact is, publishers have always been in the business of sharing stories and ideas through words — not through movie clips or music. Over time, they will be adopting new technologies and “reinventing storytelling” (as it says in the article), but we have to keep in mind that there is inherent value in preserving the tradition of the written word, and I think they see themselves continuing to do this. I think they’re smart to avoid getting crazy about all the new bells and whistles that come along, but rather take a thoughtful and considered approach, figuring out how to make entirely new products and business models work.
In addition, as the article points out, publishers must carefully consider the move to new technologies, because the financial cost of these enhanced books is staggering (over six figures in most cases), and simply not viable on a widespread basis in the current publishing climate. So I think there are very good reasons that the big publishers are slower to evolve, and some of the smaller and more nimble companies will be on the front line and the cutting edge.
I’m not a Luddite… you know that. I’m excited about new technologies and expect to spend the rest of my career grappling with them on a daily basis. But in the hype and excitement over technology, sometimes I feel compelled to speak up for the unparallelled pleasure of simply… reading a book.
Kind of revolutionary, huh?
What do you think of all this?