Electronic literature is nothing new, but interactive eBooks are coming to the app store. A team-up between Visual Editions and Google Creative Lab gives us Editions at Play, which focuses on developing interactive electronic books that can’t be replicated in a traditional book or eBook format. The makers would have you believe that this new format will bring back the magic of reading a book on your device, but I doubt this will end up as anything more than a fun little novelty to play around with on your phone. In fact, these three factors should ensure that it stays that way:
There’s No Existing Marketplace For Them
First of all, novelty or not, if you want people who read e-Books to move to interactive eBooks, they need to be part of a marketplace. E-reader users download their eBooks from a marketplace associated with their device and phone readers get their books from third-party sources. Simply placing individual eBooks into the Google Play storefront will make Editions at Play products impossible to track or keep organized. I doubt people will be willing to download a single book and have it drift somewhere in the depths of their device, instead of sitting perfectly organized in their eBook library.
Without a predetermined marketplace of their own, Editions at Play has no chance at competing with current eBook platforms, which seems to be their goal. The eBook industry is dominated by Amazon’s Kindle, owning 67% of all sales. Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble’s Nook has a lot of momentum going for it, with 25% of the market now in their hands. Then there’s Apple’s iBooks, whose superior technology is already allowing them to experiment with interactive formats.
Ebooks Are Already Failing
Launching interactive eBooks is a risky business right now because less people are buying into e-reading as a whole. eBook purchases are dropping, costing Simon & Schuster 5.6% of their total profit and Penguin Random House 12% of theirs. It’s also been seen that, despite the e-reader revolution over the last decade, many young readers still prefer to read in print, especially when it comes to school books. It just doesn’t seem like a new digital reading format is in that high of a demand anymore.
Reading as a whole has been down over the last few years as well. Pew Research says that readership of any kind–books or eBooks–has fallen from 79% in 2011 to 72% in 2015. Book-reading has dropped 8% in that time, but instead of rushing to fill the hole, eBook-reading has leveled off. Releasing interactive eBooks might seem like a good way to jumpstart the faltering industry, but it’s really not the solution Editions at Play thinks it to be.
There’s A “Content Vs. Format” Issue
My biggest personal issue with interactive ebooks is that they are actively allowing format to dictate content. Tom Uglow of Google Creative Lab says that sometimes they have “writers making edits based on a reading experience that is interactively driven, not just narratively driven.” For me, as a writer, this is what makes interactive eBooks a novelty.
I have no doubt that they can be fun and interesting, but they’re not going to be competing against eBooks anytime soon if companies like Google are influencing the content in them and presenting them as a “product.” This seems more like an interactive choose-your-own-adventure internet game than the platform for the next literary breakthrough.
Interactive eBooks seem to be too much app and not enough literature to really be of much value to those that might read them. They might see some small success upon launch, but it’s difficult to see them having a lasting effect on the current market.