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Enhanced ebooks v. Collector’s Hardcovers

Enhanced ebooks have been the talk of publishing for quite some time, primarily because I believe publishers thought that they could halt price erosion with the promise of a book that had extras. Enhanced ebooks really haven’t taken off, but companies like Vook still remain attractive the publishing world.

Possibly the best selling and most memorable enhanced ebook I can think of is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It’s a children’s book that could be read as a flat, illustrated story and is sold as such, but the enhanced ebook provides additional delights such as the ability to play Pop Goes the Weasel on a particular page.

Morris Pop Goes the Weasel

Harlequin tried the enhanced ebook with Nicola Cornick’s Unmasked back in 2008 and offered “interactive buttons that hyperlink to Web sites containing photos, historical commentaries, illustrations, sound effects, maps, articles and more.” The book is no longer for sale. Also in 2008, Penguin announced it would be offering a special edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which would contain “a filmography, period book reviews, recipes and black-and-white illustrations”. David Baldacci’s Deliver Us from Evil included a video tour of his office. You paid a $1.00 more to get access to this video so $15.99 for the book + video or $14.99 for just the ebook.

This week Amazon received a patent for “Customized electronic books with supplemental content”. The patent was originally applied for in 2010 and just now approved. The idea behind the patent is that both publishers and “trusted contributors” could add additional content to the book in the form of commentary, illustrations, or, given Kindle Worlds, additional scenes written by someone other than the author. Kindle already has x-ray fed by Shelfari (and perhaps soon by Goodreads) that provides character lists and book summaries.

Many fiction books come with a reader’s guide at the end, designed to facilitate book club discussion.

When enhanced ebooks first breached the customer horizon I derided them because publishers at the time weren’t releasing all of their books in digital form and what books were released digitally were often full of scanning errors, without book covers, and poorly formatted. While there are still problems with that regard, on the whole, ebook production values have risen in the last five years.

What I vaguely remember about Cornick’s enhanced ebook was that it took me outside the book. I’d read, click on a link and rather than having the information slide smoothly from within the content, a new window was launched and I was out of the book, onto the internet.

With the deep penetration of tablets into the reading market, enhanced ebooks could definitely be more attractive than they were back in 2008. I think the consensus in 2011, when I stopped going to tech conferences, was that the approach to enhanced ebooks had to be holistic rather than simply adding on features to an existing project. More The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore than a content stuffed into an existing classic.

The problem, however, is cost.  The cost of producing The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is huge in comparison to taking an existing text an adding videos, a few pages of commentary, and a photo or two.  I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a market or that publishers (and self published authors) shouldn’t consider this, but with Amazon’s patent suggesting that it can create enhanced ebooks on the fly, true enhanced books will likely be more app than book.

Perhaps instead of or in addition to the enhanced ebook, publishers should focus on the creation and promotion of the collector’s hardcover. I’d really love to have Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series in leather bound hardcover with several color illustrations and a fold out map.  Perhaps the same could be said of Karen Marie Moning’s five book Mac and Barron’s books.  Gail Carriger’s Soul Protectorate series was promoted with an online paperdoll game. Maybe a select print run including paperdolls in the back of the hardcover could be offered.

The market isn’t there yet for the special edition hardcover.  I’ve heard that there has been some experimentation with limited print run of hardcovers for books that have appeared in trade paperback only.  The response to those books have been lackluster.  But, print is the one area where publishers still maintain superiority and dominance. Rather than going the enhanced route, why not return to their roots?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. library addict
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 05:31:48

    While I could sort of see the attraction of extra features in children’s ebooks or textbooks, I have no interest at all in enhanced ebook novels. When I read a book, I just want to read the book. My Sony doesn’t have internet capabilities and that’s one of the main reasons I purchased it. I don’t want to surf the web when I read and I don’t want Sony or Amazon or any other company monitoring what I read while I do so.

    And as much as I think an educational factor to children’s books could be cool, I also think it is important to foster children’s interest in reading and not turn everything into a movie.

  2. Keishon
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 07:23:39

    A dollar extra to tour his office? Right. I am not interested in enhanced ebooks. I have a deeply set aversion to them that I won’t even touch them even if the extras can be ignored. Alina Adams, who used to write romance, wrote a set of cozy skating mysteries that were a lot of fun to read. She digitized them and made these enhanced ebooks. I won’t buy them. The one Elmore Leonard I read had over an hour worth of extras. I skipped them. Bottom line: I just want to read. I’m not interested in anything else or anything that will take me away from the text. I’m one of those people who don’t bother with the special features in the DVD’s that I buy so I sure as hell am not bothering with enhanced ebooks.

  3. Estara Swanberg
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 07:35:09

    It might depend on the genre. Ree Drummon showed off her enhanced ebook cookbook app for iPad and that made total sense – with the cooking videos and the possibility of seeing the pictures enlarged to see what you’re doing wrong when you’re trying to cook her dish.

    With regard to special editions,Subterranean Press seem to do quite well with their limited editions of previously unpublished short stories or novellas or even specially illustrated and bound previously published novels or retrospectives. They even offer some ebooks – especially for the books where they are the first publisher.

  4. Loosheesh
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 09:18:48

    @library addict: “While I could sort of see the attraction of extra features in children’s ebooks or textbooks, I have no interest at all in enhanced ebook novels.” – Total agreement, and I would add cookbooks to that and I’m totally OK with footnotes in nonfiction books. I also don’t have a problem with illustrations placed within the text (not accessed via links), provided their placement is relevant to what is happening within the text. I bought the illustrated Jane Austens from Sourcebooks because the illustrations are pretty, and they’re at the start of each chapter and don’t mess with the flow of the story.

    I can’t stand anything that takes me out of the story and I don’t want any enhanced content, bonus content, extra chapters, links, footnotes, whatever in my novels. I get very pissy with publishers who add a ton of promo gunk to their ebooks (yes, Loveswept, I’m especially referring to you). I just hate bloat.

  5. Darlynne
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 09:34:04

    I don’t think additional digital content has much appeal for me, although I haven’t experienced any. Maybe it would depend on the genre, as Estara mentioned.

    I could, however, get on board with an enhanced printed set as you described for Meljean Brook’s series or the books of another favorite author. I’m kind of surprised at myself because I remember being puzzled at all the readers who snapped up plain hardcover editions of the Black Dagger Brotherhood books. I hope they did it for the love of the books, not because the books are going to be valuable or perceived as such; that only happens with authors like J. K. Rowling.

    The Franklin Mint produces gorgeous, leather-bound editions of current and historical works, some of which are signed and/or illustrated, some of which are, in fact, true first editions. For example, Martin Cruz Smith’s Rose was published first by The Franklin Mint in 1996 in a signed, limited edition, and the simultaneously-published hardcover was actually the First Trade Edition. Besides the obvious differences in the physical book, there’s a vast difference in collecting value as well.

    Printing costs, however, for enhanced books (and not just the leather-bound ones) are huge and they are typically manufactured in China. Remember the Griffin and Sabine books with all the postcards and letters in envelopes? Man, I loved those books. Anyway, something like that probably isn’t on publishing’s horizons these days, although, again, a set of leather-bound Harry Potter books with, say, the Horcruxes, Tom Riddle’s diary, the Marauders’ Map and other artifacts from each book? Where do I sign up?

  6. Brian
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 10:04:44

    Penguin is experimenting with this right now. They’ve put out a linen bound limited edition (2,500 signed & numbered) of the final Sookie Stack house book for a list price of $125 (available for $81.25).

    I got the enhanced P&P eBook when it was on sale for $2 and it’s got some interesting info, but you have to approach reading it a bit differently and it definitely takes you out of the story. Like others I don’t want this type of enhancement in a fiction novel (give me a free bonus short instead if you have to add something), but can see all kinds of possibilities for nonfiction such as history books.

  7. Susan
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 10:05:57

    For the most part, I’m not interested in enhanced ebooks, but maybe I could be persuaded by some really interesting products. Bonus scenes and links? Not so much. I’m primarily just interested in the story.

    And permanence and accessibility is part of the issue. Links can vanish, so embedded content would be preferable.

    But paper books still trump ebooks for something like this due to the ability to share them or pass them on.

    @Darlynne: I have the Griffin & Sabine book. :-) I’m a total sucker for stuff like that.

  8. Lil
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 10:45:00

    You take a $7.99 paperback, gussy it up with unnecessary bells and whistles, and sell it for $125? Seriously?

  9. hapax
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 10:50:46

    I’ve heard that there has been some experimentation with limited print run of hardcovers for books that have appeared in trade paperback only.

    These have been around since the middle of the last century in the form of “book club editions” of paperback originals. These generally have smaller print, cheaper paper, and shoddy binding, however. Some “classic” sff and romance titles, or ones that hit it big later (e.g. J.D. Robb, Feehan, J.R. Ward, etc) have been re-issued in nice hardback editions, which is a big plus for libraries, since the hardback editions are MUCH sturdier.

    Easton Press publishes drool-worthy deluxe print editions of classics, including some classic science fiction and mystery authors. It might be interesting if they would take the romance genre as well, although I have the lowering suspicion that they think association with such tawdry fiction might somehow taint their brand.

    As to “enhanced” e-books, what everybody else said. I’d probably toss in a small extra surcharge NOT to be subjected to pages and pages of excerpts from forthcoming books, or annoying online links (sort of like paying extra for not having to sit through the commercials of online films)

  10. Lindsay
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 10:53:52

    The enhanced edition of Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver is actually cheaper than the original version (it’s $0.99 and has been for a while). The enhancements looked kinda cool, but I have no idea what they really were because I couldn’t view them on my kindle keyboard. I even tried to view them on my cloud reader but no go. It looks like they integrated some kind of video content throughout the book to give you an idea of what the Wilds looked like but I’ll never know unless I get an ipad. I will say that it wasn’t terribly distracting so the price made it a great deal.

  11. Ros
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 12:07:55

    @Estara Swanberg: I agree. I can’t see enhanced ebooks working well for novels, but in other genres, I think there’s real potential. I can see it being good for lots of non-fiction books. I also wonder whether fiction at the anime/manga/graphic cartoon end of the market might make use of it – I don’t know how exactly, but I can see there being creative minds who would do something fabulous.

  12. DeeCee
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 14:09:04

    I’m not a fan of enhanced ebooks. I remember a few years ago when suvudu was just starting and they offered free ebooks and discounted “enhanced” ebooks. I scarfed up Kim Harrison’s first Rachel book back when it was $3 and was beyond ticked that the enhanced part was a preview of a future book. Now I know things have changed, but that experience kind of soured me.

    Like others have said I would prefer bonus unreleased shorts rather than links or interactive.

    I love the limited edition hardcovers from Subterranean and Cemetary Dance does good work too. I only wish that the selection was a bit more broad (PNR and Urban Fantasy) and prices weren’t so steep. When Justin Cronin’s The Passage and The Twelve came out it they were each half a paycheck. Ouch.

    I would love to own Nalini Singh’s psy books and the early Kelley Armstrong Clay/Elena books in a nice edition. The covers could all be cohesive w/o the manboob/back action going on.

    RE: the Limited edition of Dead Ever After…Really? $125 for a hardcover that wasn’t the best and won’t match any of the other books? It’s gorgeous but holy cow that’s pricey!

  13. Sunny
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 15:06:58

    I think the special hardbacks I tend to buy are anniversary editions — The Last Unicorn just had one come out, Star Wars and Star Trek have had a few, the Sandman collection… those are the “enhanced” sorts of things I’m actually pretty happy to buy. Some of them are a little rich for my blood (Werewolf anniversary edition was something like $325 all told, but also included PDFs of… everything they’d ever published) but they’ve added all kinds of notes and reflections to them, which I’ve found very interesting.

    I can’t imagine anything “enhancing” my ebooks without drawing me out of the story. Tablets are likely another story, and I can see art, photography, fashion and how-to stuff doing really well with that kind of multimedia work, but it’s a lot more expensive to add videos than it is to add hyperlinks to another website.

  14. Marc
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 16:52:59

    The only enhancements I would like to see from both hardcovers and paperbacks would be a free/lowcost option on the audiobook or a buy the hardcover/paperback and get the digital version at no charge. Blu-rays now come with a digital version, a DVD version and the Blu-ray at a slightly higher cost than the usual why can’t books follow suit?

  15. Courtney Milan
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 19:03:15

    For a number of reasons, usually having something to do with movie rights that I really don’t understand, but am deeply grateful for, some contracts reserve the right to make enhanced ebooks to the author.

    Because of this, making enhanced ebooks has other ancillary benefits than those listed here:

    The author can make a much higher rate, and have more control over, an enhanced ebook she puts out personally. She can make it available worldwide, even if she sold world rights to her publisher and they haven’t put the book up in all available territories. She can price it at $2.99, and get those books out from under her publisher’s restrictive pricing.

    If the enhancements are chosen for maximum nondistractingness from the text, I am hoping that it’s a win-win for readers and authors. Even those who aren’t interested in the enhancements might be happy to pick up the book for a lower price–or have the chance to buy a non-DRMed, non-geo-restricted version, period.

    So, TL;DR, I’m hoping to have the first one out in September/October.

  16. Donna Thorland
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 19:42:54

    I made a live action, sync sound trailer for my debut novel. When the book was pirated, I discovered that someone had gone to the trouble of embedding the trailer in the bootleg copies, so you could watch and read on your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc. This might mean that readers are interested in enhancements, if the enhancements equal or exceed the quality they’re used to finding in other enhanced media–like special edition DVDs.

  17. txvoodoo
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 22:49:20

    I’d rather have ebooks where the accompanying illustrations/figures (maps, family trees, etc) were legible than enhanced goodies. The content is already in these books, but is craptastic when translated to ebooks usually. One way that enhanced might be nice is, with a high fantasy book or history, when they mention a town,k you could click on it and see it on a map, or something like that. Yeah, that’s not very high-end, but it’d enhance my reading experience!

  18. Enhanced ebooks v. Collector’s Hardcovers...
    Jul 07, 2013 @ 23:54:45

    […] Enhanced ebooks have been the talk of publishing for quite some time, primarily because I believe publishers thought that they could halt price erosion with the promise of a book that had extras.  […]

  19. Rosario
    Jul 08, 2013 @ 04:14:06

    The enhancements described (except for, maybe, the cookbook) don’t interest me. I think the problem is that they feel like “ok, what can we add that will induce readers to pay more money for this?”, rather than an organic “this book would be so much better if it included this enhancement, how can we manage to put it in”.

    I’m not attracted to the idea of collectors’ hardcovers, either. I really don’t care about the book as an object. To me, it’s just the medium for what I really care about, which is the story.

  20. carmen webster buxton
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 16:26:29

    I agree with a lot of this! Cost is a determining factor when it comes to “enhancements.” I love the Kindle’s X-Ray feature for certain kinds of books, especially historical novels with a huge cast of characters where it’s easy to lose track of who is who. Being able to highlight a name and see who the character is is useful. I don’t think Amazon sees X-Ray so much as an enhanced to content so much as enhancement to their platform. They seem to have made it very low cost to create, though. When my free Kindle book The Sixth Discipline hit over 12,000 downloads, Amazon created an X-Ray feature for it solely from the list of characters and places I had added to the book via Shelfari (which Amazon owns). They even added “names” to the list like “Granny,” which suggests they have a programmatic way to cull characters’ names from text. I think this kind of feature is the future of enhanced ebooks.

  21. Anna Richland
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 00:32:35

    Here’s a question that Courtney Milan or DA may know the best answer to – I heard that certain large third party retailers charge the author/publisher more based on the size of the book being downloaded. So if this is true, an enhanced ebook, assuming it’s a bigger file, would yield a larger % to the third party seller and a smaller % to the publisher/author. Even if the price was a little higher, it might not yield a bottom line difference. Is this so? Might explain why we’re not seeing more of those on the digital shelves. I had been wondering about some enhancements in the book I have coming out in January, but if it costs more for each sale (costs beyond production itself) then that’s money I don’t really want to not make now.

  22. Post-it del 15 luglio
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 02:53:28

    […] » Enhanced ebook vs Collectors Hardcover […]

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    Sep 16, 2013 @ 11:25:59

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