Thursday, May 14, 2015

Are Enhanced eBooks a Digital Grail?

What is the state of the ebook market and are there significant differences between the various different market segments and geographical regions?

The question is not new and there are a significant number of opinions on the answers. However, different markets move at different speeds and sometimes in different direction and facts are often out of date and views often reflect vested interests. The BookNet Canada annual survey of Canadian publishers, 'The State of Digital Publishing in Canada'  findings may be subjective, but the range of questions asked and the ability to track these against the same survey result from last year, make it a worthwhile read for all and one which should be replicated in other markets.

It is easy to relate to; the 93% of publishers producing ebooks, the 50% of active titles that are digitised, 24% of respondents who have digitised over 75% of their backlists, the 52% who have seen increased revenues between 2013 and 2014, but the big question remains on the size of growth we can expect from ebooks moving forward and whether they need to change to realise further market penetration?

Interesting questions where again asked on enhanced ebooks.  Do we continue to pour the same physical book into the digital container and believe that the job is done? Do we look to enhance the digital version to make it more collectable, even though, increasingly the public are aware that they are not buying, but merely licencing a digital copy? Are we in fact looking at the question of differentiation the wrong way and in striving for the new to be better, losing sight of where the greatest value is perceived and potential enhancement required?

The Canadian publishing respondents who believe that enhanced ebooks offer no market impact, has increased from 40% to 73%, with those believing a light impact has decreased from 33% to 20% and those who believe that they hold a positive impact has dropped from 7% to ZERO%.

This clear drop in confidence by publishers in the enhanced ebook will almost certainly be self-prophesying and result in fewer enhanced ebooks, which in turn will reduce any market result further. When coupled with the result that only 25% have developed mobile apps, it either says that there is no market demand for digital enhancement, or that it will take others to step up to the plate to make a change happen.

Why is the debate relevant today?

Firstly, we have seen a flattening out in ebooks sales in the trade market in the developed digital markets. Secondly, we have heard increasing media noise about the love of paper and the immersive and tactile book experience. Importantly we have seen little new ebook or digital content market change. Even the conference and marketing noise has refocused itself more towards eMarketing and less about eContent. Various reports have started to question the market’s appetite for merely more of the same digitally. Finally, the illogical subscription offers have started to unravel as consumers do the maths.  

As other media segments all look towards expanding their own propositions and consumer reach, the question of who does what, who is in the best position and who owns what, starts to take shape. We often hear about the game and video opportunities for book publishers and assume that book publishers are best placed to realise these, often forgetting the on the other side of the fence the other media segments are eying up books with the same thoughts. However, until an ebook has the longevity to be a true sustainable consumer investment and not just an often non-transferable commodity licence, book publishers may well not wish to waste their resources listening to advisors who are often chasing their own Digital Grails. 


Inkling said...

The problem is that "enhanced" has come to mean mixed media, which is adding audio and video to ebooks. That's why publishers are becoming skeptical about. A bad idea has become a failed idea.

I've long said that mixed media was a road to nowhere. Contracting for Microsoft in the late 1980s, I saw that come to nothing with CD media. Nothing has changed. Mixed media is still expensive and something readers don't find appealing.

What would appeal is an enhanced ebook that builds on the older print model. Digital could include more additional information that readers could use or not use. Writers often have to prune some of their research. What they've discovered could be part of the enhancement, something readers could access or ignore.

Fiction would also benefit. Imagine a murder mystery that you read twice. The first time you read it without the authors notes turned on, attempting to solve the mystery yourself. The second time you read it with the notes on and through them the author explains the clues he placed in his tale. It'd the equivalent of DVDs that let you watch a second time and listen to the director and writers explain the background.

In short, enhancement hasn't been tried and found wanting. It's merely been badly implemented without taking into account that, when people read a book they don't want to have radically different media thrust at time.

For a parallel, imagine a movie that, as certain points in the story, forced are you to stop watching and read an accompanying book passage. You'd be ticked off wouldn't you? Adding videos to books does much the same thing. People simply don't like certain kinds of mixed media.

That's perhaps with the exception of having an online author interview to watch before reading and another to watch after. Being able to see the author as a person often makes it more enjoyable.

Martyn Daniels said...

it's interesting that we assume that the digital rendition is the logical one which to extend. The big question is whether there is money money in doing that and and also whether it adds real perceived value in the eyes of the consumer?
It is clear that eBooks are licenced copies and therefore not collectibles so why try to make them collectibles. Maybe they should be seen and priced as the new paperback or cheap rendition.
If one follows this logic then you could look to making the hardback the collector rendition. After all today the only difference between the paperback and hardback is the packaging. By adding supplemental material within the hardback we could see the value increase and the price hold its own and differentiation between the paperback and hardback become clear.
We must remember that just because the digital rendition can accommodate more material isn't sufficient reason alone to include it.