The problem with enhanced e-books

On, Laura Miller takes a look at the current crop of interactive, “enhanced” books and discusses some of their major shortcomings. The problem with these books, she points out, is that the interactive “bells and whistles” can distract from the actual storytelling:


I sat down with my iPad to read “The Yellow Submarine” with a friend’s 7-year-old twins, and within 10 minutes, we were embroiled in a conflict that captured the central, nagging problem with the enhanced e-book concept. Desmond liked playing with the interactive features — the digital equivalent of the tabs and flaps in a paper pop-up book — although few of these could steal his ongoing fascination away from the iPad’s system-wide “pinch to expand” feature. Nini was aggravated by her brother’s pinching, tapping and swiping, and shouted, “I’m trying to read the story!” (Neither one cared much about either the music or the videos, incidentally.) Instead of a cozy interlude of reading, we had a fight.

For some of the books she discusses, children’s books (because those are the ones that tend to get the most bells and whistles added), the apps come off as more like movies or games than books.

She also looks at three enhanced versions of an adult story, the Sherlock Holmes tale “The Speckled Band”. She thought Vook’s, equipped with video mini-documentaries, was interesting but she found no compelling reason the films should be interspersed with the story rather than available separately. The BookTrack version’s background audio track was either distracting or ignorable. Byook’s was the most enjoyable to her, as it included some illustrations, maps, and diagrams that she found actually did enhance the reading experience.

Mrs. Miller does note that interactivity offers much more promise for non-fiction books, and will discuss them in a further article.

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