Should Indie Authors Beware or Rejoice?

by Gina Burgess

In the New Yorker, there’s a good article: Publish or Perish. The future of publishing is discussed, and Russ Grandinette of Amazon makes a very good point. “In [my] view, book publishers—like executives in other media—are making the same mistake the railroad companies made more than a century ago: thinking they were in the train business rather than the transportation business. To thrive, [I] believe publishers have to reimagine the book as multimedia entertainment.”

The New Yorker also points out, “David Rosenthal, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, says that his company is racing ‘to embed audio and video and other value-added features in e-books. It could be an author discussing his book, or a clip from a movie that touches on the book’s topic.’ The other major publishers are working on similar projects, experimenting with music, video from news clips, and animation. Publishers hope that consumers will be willing to pay more for the added features. The iPad, Rosenthal says, ‘has opened up the possibility that we are no longer dealing with a static book. You have tremendous possibilities.’”

Has anyone read one of these digital entertainment books? You get a taste of it in Dean Koontz’ short story Ricochet Joe, offered from Amazon Prime.  The images and “action” acutely remind me of Batman and Robin’s “Bang” and “Pow!” While it is interesting in the same way an escalator is fascinating to a boy that’s never seen one, to me, it wears thin after a couple of chapters. Just like for the boy, the novelty wears off.

The article goes on to point out that several of these big publishers seem to think that multi-media eBooks will be cheaper to produce than printed books. While I agree there’s a great deal of merit in not having to have a huge warehouse (or garage) for books, no paper and ink costs, what about the graphic design costs and technical maintenance costs? These big publishers seem to think that making a deal with Steve Jobs to use iTunes for eBook publishing, but are they actually making a deal with the “devil?”

Back in 2009, Stephen R. Covey made a publishing rights deal with Amazon to sell his famous book, 7  Habits of Highly Effective People where he received almost half the profits. But Simon & Schuster launched Covey on his path to fame and fortune. This is the same kind of deal every indie author makes when using CreateSpace.

However, I’m wondering how soon authors need to bend toward this kind of entertainment. Perhaps while Baby Boomers are still the majority of the purchasing power authors won’t find it necessary to litter their eBooks with pictures, moving images, and embedded audio. We Baby Boomers are attached to our paper books, and we don’t use all those fancy apps. But I do see the day when the digital native will commandeer the purchasing power and the wave of the future will splash over and inundate the publishing world.

If the big five publishers are “racing” to add more pizazz to their e-books ostensibly so that they can raise the price of the ebook at Amazon and other online retailers, where does that leave the indie published eBook? Will pricing reflect value? Will indie published eBooks still be the entrée of the book reader’s menu?

What do you think? Should authors beware and forearmed? Should indie authors dive into this digital world while holding their noses?

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22 thoughts on “Should Indie Authors Beware or Rejoice?”

  1. It strikes me as nothing that would appeal to existing readers. If anything, done well, it could be a way to entice other customers (aka nonreaders). For any serious reader it’s a huge distraction.

  2. I think that this is a good idea. I have toyed with the idea of authors creating a book with sound clips (like eerie noises) that help enhance the reading and bridge the gap to create a movie/reading experience. I think that adding media in books should be something we start doing (like links to youtube interviews, etc.)

    1. Jonathan, I’ve seen several eBooks with links that do enhance getting to know the author, and I can see how sounds might help expound the experience, especially with suspense as in doors creaking or swishing or slamming. Yeah, I could get into that.

      Here’s my problem with the graphics, though. Once I’ve met a character and read the description, I’ve got that in my head. I don’t want the author switching gears on me by graphically depicting something totally different than what’s already in my head. In one book an author had a flaxen-haired girl who’s hair was later referred to as dark. That’s a story flow stopper for sure.

  3. I would be wary of anything Amazon has to say. They’re currently in the business of running everybody else off the road, and are congratulating themselves on how smart they are.
    Yes, the story still has to work, and the special effects can also get in the way. Besides, there are still people out there who like to use their own imagination and not be spoon=fed every detail.
    By the way, the rail companies are still doing pretty well.

  4. While many aspects of this type of innovative publishing are attractive, I think it’s also worth bearing in mind they have their downsides.

    1: Current e-reader models do not generally support this range of multi-media additional functionality. While audio is possible, video on e-ink technology items is not practical, nor is (currently) effective high resolution colour. While the suggestion may be to tell readers ‘use a table’ or ‘use a phone (personally I find reading on phones painful at best), these devices do not have the long batter life, low costs associated with loss or breakage and low weight (to facilitate reading anywhere).

    2: Many authors, especially those just setting out, may not have the skill sets, or indeed the financial resources, to turn a novel into a multi-media experience. This is likely to be particularly true of the Indie market, but even larger Publishers won;t necessarily want to expend time and money on new authors in their stable to provide this kind of ‘extra’.

    3: I think that to a degree the more multi your media, the more you are detracting from, or even losing focus on, the words. At the end of the day, or even the beginning, if ‘authors’ also have to be (even in small measures) audio and video producers, sound and moving image engineers, they’re either going to need studio time and studio staff (which, again, don’t come cheap) or to develop extensive skills and facilities. There’s a reason base production cost (Voice Talent, possibly in some cases not even including audio post-production) can hit $5,000 plus without effort before a single copy is sold.

    Are there possible benefits? Yes. Are there possible drawbacks? Possibly, even probably. For example, making multi-media that is compliant with disability needs standards (and reading is a form of entertainment popular with many who suffer disabilities) is far from easy.
    But those are just my thoughts – and I’m an Idiot (blush). What do others feel?

    1. You have put it succinctly in a nutshell, Graeme. My mom had macular degeneration and could only read very large print. She loved reading and eBooks could adjust to that large print easily. But, she couldn’t find the Kindle Reader app on her device because it was too small. Great point!

      I say let the digital natives watch movies and let us digital immigrants keep our books just like they are 🙂 LOL

  5. SF and Fantasy author David Farland did this with the ebook edition of his YA novel “Nightingale” a few years ago. It was referred to as an “enhanced” book. In this case, an animated illustration was placed only at the beginning of each chapters, so the “special effects” didn’t become distracting. Also, at least on my Kindle it didn’t work very well. I ended up buying a regular ebook edition of it to read, though I do prefer print books.

  6. I believe I agree in some part with Diann’s post. Too much is Too Much and becomes an interference and distraction, especially for those who are attempting to communicate and point or message within their work.
    In my work, (fiction) for example I am attempting to create a “movie” within the reader’s imagination and too much from me (information, direction,pictures and sketches, etc.) injects too much of “me” into what should be partly “them.” A writer already does that by coming up with the idea, direction and plot. I believe the reader is better rewarded if he/she can “see” what is unfolding instead of trying to understand what I mean.
    Having said that I also believe that all “traditional” publishers need to take all measures necessary to achieve success … the same as any other business. The biggest most obvious problem for publishers in the past was their NEED to publish “literature” and “English”. If you have released and distributed enough “entertainment” so that you can afford to release and distribute “literature” then go ahead. Those that have so far survived seem to be making attempts to do that with the result that we see books with a variety of “new” attachments, inserts, etc.
    If it works, do it. If it doesn’t …

  7. Dennis Kitainik

    Just wondering, what’s your take on novels which incorporate playable games, like for example “Pilate’s Ghost” by Will Kotheimer (which includes several missions for Microsoft Flight Simulator X)?

    1. Oooo, I don’t know. I haven’t seen that type of book. But, I know that when I’m reading, I don’t take kindly to interruptions. I think I would see it as an interruption. That is my opinion, though. I don’t know how younger readers would see it.

  8. My writing group saw this coming five years back. We knew it would be hard for indie authors to do this on their own, so we schemed and dreamed and developed a company to address the issue. Fiction Vortex, Inc. started as a bunch of ‘what if we could…’ conversations in the local coffee house, but we bootstrapped like crazy and started development on an indie author writing platform and then an app to push out the content created on said platform.
    We released the app, Fictionite, last June. We now have over 100 pooling talent in our community. The interactive elements (we call them Dynamics) are limited right now to polls and voting, but they still allow interaction that is communicated to the authors. So not only is there more engagement but there is author/reader interaction!

    So, yeah, indie authors should totally dive in. No need to hold their noses either, instead they just need to pool together and take over the waters.

  9. Diann’s story about her experience is segue to a pet topic of mine: I believe the best fiction books are those that permit participation in the creative process. To implement that, one doesn’t need gimmicks! One uses instead the “Goldilocks Principle”–not too much description of a character and not too little, but just enough so that the reader can participate by forming her own image of the character. Same for settings, dialogue, and other story elements. I call it minimalist writing.
    The experimental stuff described would make an ebook more like a video or podcast, and therefore more passive. Anything that increases passivity is a negative for reading a book as far as I’m concerned. That’s just me, of course.
    I talked about making enhanced ebooks a while ago in my blog. As an author, I rejected the notion because I’m old and don’t want to experiment with this stuff. I’ve come up with better reasons since then. Maybe this is a way to “capture” younger readers. Maybe it’s a way to make ebooks more expensive than print (the Big Five already price their ebooks about the same as print books, which is absurd). Whatever. I just prefer to read a great story on my Kindle or in print and can do without any cute bells and whistles that marketers dream up.

    1. Steve, my sentiments exactly!

      Readers don’t need imagination enhancements. I wonder if that is why the younger generations who have grown up with hand-held games that sing, toot, and clap for you find reading a book as boring. Are imaginations deteriorating or expanding?

  10. Does adding images, moving gifs and video embedding add to the delivery costs of an ebook? That will erode sales profits for an Indie author rather quickly. Maybe that’s why the cost is higher for the e-book?

    I’m not sure readers are willing to pay a higher price for enhanced e-books though.

  11. I don’t think it would add much, if anything, to delivery costs except for the Whispernet costs for delivery. But it sure does add a ton to production costs. I grumble and complain when I have to learn a new phone. I really don’t want to have to learn how to do the sounds and graphics to a novel LOL. I agree, I don’t want to have to pay a higher price for eBooks.

  12. Roger Middleton

    I do like the idea of adding user-activated links and have considered using them in an ebook, but currently find their use cumbersome and possibley too expensive for me to maintain.
    Like any media, if used appropriately, it can enhance the experience. However, most “enhancements” get over used and interfere with the original message. Most people learn how to use the “bells and whistles”, but not appropriately. Probably best left to media experts.

  13. Interesting.

    All this at a time when I’m seeing more and more articles and blogs about people today needing to have more quiet in our lives and more room for our own imaginations.

    I’m in the let books be books camp. If people want all that stuff, it’s already there in videos, podcasts, video games, movies and TV. Audio books are fine as a lot of people have vision problems of one kind or another and really benefit from audio books – not to mention the people who enjoy them on their commutes. But otherwise let’s let people have one form of entertainment that is quiet and not bombarding us with endless moving images.

  14. Enhancing an ebook with video, sounds or other multimedia wouldn’t do a thing for me. I read books to read books. If I want to watch a movie or a video, I watch a movie or a video.
    Why pay more for an enhanced ebook, when you know you’re going to be able to find that same media online somewhere else for free?
    I still think ebooks are going to be the downfall of the publishing industry. It’s become far too easy for anyone to publish anything.

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