23
Aug

5 Things Everybody Gets Wrong About Interactive Books

The widespread of interactive books coincided with me getting into publishing studies and I couldn’t be any happier to live in this amazing age.
I still remember my disbelief in 2009, when I first heard about hypertext and interconnected books. My professor seemed to be telling an impossible tale about a future where all quotes, references and mentions will be easily searchable in all works of literature and where we can create our own story within the book, breaking up the linear order of reading.

Now we have all we could only dream of, and so many things we could have never imagined: but do we used it as we should? Do interactive books get all the awe and respect they deserve? And most importantly: are they the future? In the following I am debunking five misconceptions about interactive books and show everyone how amazing they are.

1. Interactive books are a new invention

Even if we don’t count colouring books, pop ups and all kinds of hands on books for kids, traditional printed books that allow the readers to interact or change the story some way or another have been around for awhile now. Do any of you remember the gamebooks that came with a dice and you had to decide where to go next, whom to fight and whom to avoid?
It was just a question of time that traditional linear storytelling gets combined with the reader’s desire to get involved and to get an enhanced story, that ‘steps off’ the pages. Although the first Kindles coming to the market didn’t look anything like the future (being heavy, black and very-very basic), interactive books conquered the market nevertheless.

2. You need an iPad to read interactive ebooks

False again. Apart from interactive apps for which you do need a tablet, the two traditional ebook formats have also received an update a couple of years ago. Both the widely accepted epub format (used by Google and Kobo among many) and Amazon’s mobi got a facelift: epub3 and kf8 were designed with HTML5 and CSS3 standards in mind. Books made this way are called enhanced ebooks, and offer a huge level of customizability. This includes easy to enlarge pictures, embedded video and audio, and great accessibility. Epub3 and kf8 could be used for creating books needing a fix layout (such as children’s books or scientific books), comics and textbooks.

In the meantime, interactive ebooks flooded the book and app stores of iPads and android devices. These books are the love child of traditional books and cutting-edge technology. Examples include cookbooks with built in timer or tourist guides with built in GPS that know where you are.

3. Interactive books are for kids only

No, they are actually for all kinds of people. There are, obviously, numerous interactive kids books, targeting pre-schoolers or even toddlers, but there is also interactive adult fiction and nonfiction. The possibilities are endless: starting from Hallmark’s interactive story buddy, which comes with a soft raccoon that starts talking if the child is reading out loud through learning Chinese characters to the animated covers of The New Yorker. Studies show that interactive textbooks facilitate learning; so don’t be afraid to let your child read on the iPad before the GCSE – or when learning about blood cell morphology. Unlike television, interactive books rely heavily on language, and increase vocabulary and reasoning abilities.

There is no shortage of interactive fiction for adults (IF) either. Apart from classics getting a chance to shine in a new light (have you seen this Sherlock app that lets you see everything through Watson’s eye?), there are plenty of writers and designers who create new content worth reading for tablets and ereaders. Original fiction includes Device 6 designed for iPads which requires the readers to find the clues and solve the puzzles in order to go to the next chapter. From the more recent ones see the Burnt Matches interactive poetry.

4. They are difficult and expensive to make

Wrong again. When interactive books first emerged, several companies tried to stick the label ‘interactive’ onto anything they published. Let’s be clear here: hyperlinks, clickable endnotes and linking outside resources should be basic features of every ebook. Enhanced ebooks and interactive ebooks should include some extras that really add to the reading experience.

It doesn’t hurt to know some HTML if you are aiming for the IF market, but don’t worry: your success won’t depend on your programming knowledge. Luckily for all of us with a brain made for words, both Apple iBooks and Kindle have their own interactive ebook editor. You can use those to easily create your own interactive ebooks. Countless smaller companies designed apps and widgets to make your life as an author easier: a thorough guide is available here..

5. They are a dying breed

Well, who knows? Although the big breakthrough for interactive fiction never happened – partly because computer games became increasingly story-centered -, IF has a strong fan-base pushing the boundaries between literature and games. Let us also not forget about the interactive non-fiction (such as textbooks) which is thriving; and other formats emerging around the noughties destined to fade away but which have just recently resurfaced: including audiobooks and podcasts.

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  • Thank you for this article, Zsofia 🙂

    To me, what you describe as an “enhanced interactive book” is mostly what we call an “app”: apart from all the fancy and navigation capabilities that we can put into an epub, they can handle values, parameters, and stock information within a “memory”, which we cannot do – still – when creating an epub.
    So it has to be clear for an aspiring author: creating an “interactive book” is relatively easy, though there is a steep learning curve. Making a book which can “remember” your choices, calculate variables during your reading experience, is something else. Something requiring other (programming) skills.

    Kind regards,
    Olivier

    • Zsófia Machó

      Thank you for your insight Olivier! Great point.