Ebook sample subscriptions and automation
Why I’m not on the Amazon Echo bandwagon…yet

A vision for making ebooks more engaging

Light-bulbs-1125016_1920I’m convinced we’re still in the very early stages of ebook evolution. The current print-under-glass model works great for some books but long-form digital content has so much more potential.

The market will ultimately move beyond the only option readers have today of consuming dumb content on smart devices. Content enrichment is one way forward but neither authors nor publishers have an appetite for the effort required to add video and other web elements to their books. And before anyone suggests that I’m trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, let me once again say that some books are just fine with the print-under-glass model. But there are plenty of books and genres that would benefit from digital enrichment and those are what we need to focus on.

If the manual process isn’t viable, how can we use technology to our advantage to take this content to the next digital level? I propose an automated solution, one where auto-tagging, text analysis and search results all play a role.

Here’s how it would work:

  • The ebook contents are analyzed by an enrichment tool where key phrases, names, locations, etc., are identified and tagged,
  • Those tagged elements are then viewable by the reader when they tap the screen in their reading app; the service remains completely invisible to readers who don’t wish to use it,
  • When the reader taps on one of the tagged elements a pop-up menu provides the opportunity to dive deeper on that topic with links to video, audio, maps, web pages, etc.; all of this is fed by the application’s preferred search engine (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.),
  • The reader is then able to take that deeper dive, pin links to the page for future reading and share their favorites with other readers of the ebook.

Because this vision integrates web elements with the book it requires an active internet connection. If the reader is offline they’re still able to read the original print-under-glass version of the book.

The video below is a quick walk-through of how this concept is presented to the reader. As you watch it, remember the intention here is to develop a front-end content analysis/parsing tool that tags and builds all the linkages, so no work is required by the author or editor. Also note the opportunity to create new income streams for the publisher and author via paid and sponsored link campaigns.


Amy Sterling Casil

Well, you certainly know I agree, Joe ... LOL! I think for many forms of content this is important. Also, there is some great design work going on with some of our established publications, pushing mobile and online content to the next, best level.

Howard Cornett

One other enhancement that often gets overlooked in discussions like this one is reader engagement with the content. In print books, readers highlight, make notes in the margin, and take general notes in a notebook. Given that all these are happening digitally, why is no one working on this reader need? It applies to anyone who is studying, whether in school/work or for personal enrichment. I want to have all the ability to annotate my text like in print but THEN be able to search all of that data. And I want to do this across my entire personal library, regardless of the publisher of the content in that library.

I suspect that the problem is largely in the perspective of the publisher. They are looking at it from their perspective of simply selling their content. But digital presents so much more opportunity if they widen their vision and change their perspective to that of the reader. With all the discussion around authors and publishers, as I reader I feel more and more left behind in this
/evolution of electronic publishing.

But you are right, Joe. We are still in the early stages of the ebook evolution. I just hope it doesn't get stuck in an evolutionary dead end where digital readers lose all the benefits of print without receiving any of the possibilities presented by electronic publishing.

Rod Sparr

Excellent article, great idea!

Nit: Insert "anyone" in the 2nd paragraph sentence that begins "And before [anyone] suggests that. . .."

Also, did I miss something? It seems you'd want "beckoning fiction books" (mine is nominally a romance/legal-suspense novel, but it actually lures the reader into a course on Libertarian Philosophy) to include links to online schools and courses that amplify the concepts resonating within a book's story line. I know you mentioned this conceptually, but so many books are splendid learning lessons, so I guess I'd want to more prominently pitch educational links in this conceptualization.

Mike Larsen

The greatest creative opportunity technology offers is to tell a story, fiction or nonfiction, and integrate all media into it so effectively that awareness of medium and technique disappears. That will fulfill the potential of technology to enhance storytelling. Since the perils facing the human family match its potential, let us hope the story has enough social value to justify the creativity that it will require.

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