Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Choose Your Own E-book Adventure

We all remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books as kids where you suddenly time travel to the Civil War and you have to decide whether to get on the raft across the river or run away and you have to flip to page 97 to find out if you survived?

Well, should you be intrepid enough to, uh, click on a few links, you're about to Choose Your Own E-book Adventure. Ready the time machine!

I know, I know, some of you are saying, another e-book post. Here's the thing: some of the most common questions I receive these days are along the lines of, "What's going to happen to authors/agents/publishers in the e-book era? Are publishers going to survive? What does it mean for authors?"

And while I try to give a reasonable answer, in the back of my mind I'm thinking, "Well, that depends on lots and lots of factors that are impossible to know at this point." It's really hard to look into the future when X, Y, and Z could throw the whole future into a wildly different outcome. The future might look basically like what we have now, with the major publishers distributing most of the books electronically through e-book stores, or it could look wildly different than that, with the e-book vendors or device makers or some combination being the main game in town.

So. I thought I'd turn some of those variables into a couple different guesses about what different versions of our publishing future might look like. Ready to play? Here we go:

It's 2010. Right now e-books comprise only 3-5% of sales, but some people think e-books represent the future of the book business and will eventually comprise the majority of sales.

Do you think this will happen?

E-books catch on in a big way
E-books remain a niche market


Cid said...

I always picked the option that lead to sudden-death. Maybe that says something about me :D

eBooks though I think will stick around. I hope we don't loose physical books, but the world is too digital for books to not join in.

Dara said...

Very entertaining! Like with the adventure books, I always go back after I chose my initial path and see where the others would've taken me. It was interesting to read all of the other "paths" that the eBooks could go.

Rick Daley said...

Nathan, your blog has always set a high bar, but you just upstaged yourself with this exercise!

WORD VERIFICATION: kingod. A deity over Kindles, very appropriate for today's discussion.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

My prediction: e-books are here to stay. They will continue to gain momentum as e-readers become more affordable.

My concern: The bar will be lowered when it comes to the quality of writing. People are used to scanning material presented on the screen, taking in as much as possible in the shortest time. Writing will become somewhat disposable and I’m afraid that those of us who really work on the craft of writing will be lost in a sea of mediocrity.

Ciara said...

I'm sure that ebooks are here to stay, i just don't really like it, i'm just getting used to the industry the way it is...grrr change.
ps. awesome post

Josin L. McQuein said...


I think you need a 12-step for your obvious link addiction.


ElegantSnobbery said...

I don't know if it will be the future... but its certainly not the path I'm going to choose, in my choose-you-own adventure (I loved those when I was a kid!). There is just something wonderful about turning a crisp book page, or a musty dog-eared page that makes my soul happy. I just can't get that same feeling from ebooks.

Nick said...

I ran square into a brick wall with my choice. And then I got shot by East Germans while trying to hop the said wall. Does that mean I win?

Okay seriously though, I'm sure e-books are here to stay and all, but I'm a stubborn git who likes to think there's a future where all these newfangled dohickeys stay out of the hands of them whippersnappers.

Polenth said...

I think the e-world will be great for choose your own adventure. It's much easier to click a link than turn to page 56.

...your plot lacked tension though. Where was the bit where the hungry dragon chased me because I forgot to pick up the dragon treats?

GK said...

Utterly fantastic.

Of course, with CYOA books, I had to keep a finger on each decision page as I went along so when I got to the end of one storyline, I could go back and see what other choices would bring me. Often I ran out of fingers. Much easier just opening separate tabs. ^_^

JohnO said...

I found this the hardest call:

* Device makers begin to dominate the e-book world
* E-book stores retain control

Most economies gravitate to an oligopoly (a.k.a. "few big players") model (like, B&N and a few others in bookselling), but I have to think e-book formatting is going to be like HTML -- i.e., getting more platform-agnostic over time.

In that case, publishers will have to choose whether to accept unfavorable terms for access to a big retail channel like Amazon, or go for a higher margin and a smaller channel.

Because even if there isn't a formatting limitation, publishers will still want access to big booksellers for the exposure.

Or so is the cloudy view in my crystal ball.

Nathan Bransford said...


I agree that's a tough call as well, and although it would have been too complicated to build into this game, it's also partly dependent upon future e-book reader behavior. Are people going to read e-books on dedicated devices or on multi-functional devices that can do many different things? If it's dedicated devices the advantage probably goes to fewer players, if it's multi-functional devices there's probably more of an opportunity for different players to have a role there. I tend toward the latter as being more likely, but impossible to know for sure.

Anonymous said...

This post right here is precisely why I want you for an agent. Because you get IT. All of IT.
Great post, clever, very clever.

Rowenna said...

Speaking of choose-your-own adventure and e-books--how awesome will those be in e-book format? No flipping to page 87 then back to page 42--just Blip! You're there! And have been eaten by a lion, but whatevs. Plus larger file capacity could lead to longer and more satisfying adventures.

out-totheblack said...

Dude, I'm such a goober. I loved the choose your own adventure books as a child. I thought, sweet! An ebook version for adults! :(

I do like the ebookventure that you put together, though. Who knows how this will really settle out. I love my ebooks. I love my paper books. And books I really love, I have in both. I just hope the authors make good in the end.

Susan Quinn said...

Rowena - My 9 year old loves the Choose Your Own Adventure books and has been dying to get a hold of my nook. So I offered to buy one for him for the nook. He declined. Maybe he didn't get the "go to page X" feature, or maybe he just liked the idea of holding tha paper book in his hands.

Surprised me!

Moira Young said...

It is very dark. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.


I think e-books could and should be most necessary as School books but, somehow that will end up being less likely.

I was just gifted the "nook" by another who has one too, so that we can share our inventory should we choose.

I still have a big collection of my preferred hard covers but, another said she could not part with the pliable pillow of her paperbacks, no matter what.

Renee Collins said...

Brilliant. Truly.

Tracy said...

See, this is why I never did choose-your-own-adventure books as a kid. I debated too much on what I wanted to choose vs. what I knew I should choose.

So I always went ahead and read both options to see what I liked best, and then picked how to go on. I was such a cheater.

JTShea said...

Wow! An E-game! Two questions. Are dice involved in this adventure? And when and how do I get the Princess' hand?

ryan field said...

This was fun.

John Jack said...

When I was a kid, _Sugarcane Island_ was still a twinkle in Edward Packard's eye. By the time Choose Your Own Adventure books came out for real, they didn't do much for me. Reading one was like playing Chutes and Ladders with a toddler. Probably because I read them linearly, I didn't buy into the mystique of proxy realities.

Chuck H. said...

eBooks, paperbacks, hard covers, illuminated manuscripts, papyrus scrolls, stone tablets, cave walls, dirt. Can't we all just get along?

Reesha said...

I always looked for the most interesting picture inside those books and then tried to get to that page.
Tons of fun!

My prediction: eBooks remain a niche market.

But if I could choose and have it come true: eBooks would become more prevalent without decreases traditional book sales. Essentially, more people would read!

Word ver: dialogni = writing dialogue while eating balony.

Mira said...

What a terrific post! Creative and fun, and gets everyone involved - I agree with Rick D. - you outdid yourself, Nathan.

holly said...

i think they might, it just depends on how they are written :)

Trisha Wooldridge said...

You outdid yourself, this time, Nathan! :) What a fabulous post. I had to go through all the options - like I used to do for the Choose Your Own Adventures. Also, like a few of us, I was thinking you'd heard they had made e-CYOAs... and that would have made me buckle down to get an e-reader. :)

Thank you for so much fun & info!

John said...

Coolest post ever. I believe that we will see the e-book market replace the print book market, but print books will still be available for on-demand, online purchasing. I think multi-functional devices will be the norm, and e-book publishers will control the market. The medium will change, but future generations will be just as satisfied with that experience as we are now with our print books. But you're right - we can only guess.

Anonymous said...

Dude, you gotta check out the getlamp documentary:

This is another way to express yourself.

I all ways thought the find your own adventures were just a gateway drug to RPG's.

jessjordan said...

omg, I LOVED the choose your own adventure books. Except, um, I totally could never commit to just one. I had to see them all.

Now, if only life worked like that ...

Ishta Mercurio said...

Very, nicely done, Nathan, and very clever. Very, VERY clever.

Anonymous said...

I've seen a lot about e-book pricing but not much about a time varying price. High when the hardback comes out and dropping down when the paperback releases.

I have a feeling that a lot of blockbuster sales go to people who don't buy a lot of books. So why would they own an e-book reader? If the reader is only reading a book or two a year then I can't see the paper version going away.

Most of the hardbacks I buy are for gifts. Do I need to know which reader the recipient has before buying the book? Or am I do I need to give a gift certificate?

Dave K

anitanolan said...

Awarded you a One Lovely Blog award. Love your blog!

Claire Dawn said...

I miss Choose Your Own Adventure :(

I think we have seen a prescedent with the music industry and CDs.

Paper books will get less popular, but they won't disappear. Publishing companies are going to be forced to become more innovative.

There is a place for the publisher. They weed out all the William Hung's of writing. Those who think they can, but really are well- William Hung.

It's like supply and demand. It takes a while for things to even out, but eventually they will. Noone likes having to wade through a ton of crap to find a jem. That's why we ask our friends for reccommendations. That's why we read online ratings. But even before all that, that's why readers depend on publishers.

If traditional publishing houses are no longer involved in the majority of book sales/publishing, then readers will probably notice flaws in the packaging because the process is no longer as rigourous. Rounds of editing are meant to make a book better. If an author no longer has to be good enough to garner an agent and a publishers' attanetion, how much editing will they day. If book quality suffers, the end reader will demand checks and balances to take care of that, and that will more than likely come about through a reformed concept of a publisher.

Thanks for making me think about this. I think I will do a post on my blog. Btw, I've given you the Sunshine Award. Doubt you have time for that dilly-dalliance, but there's no way I could give out an award and not include this blog.

Helen said...

"When the dust clears the e-book era looks a whole lot like the print era."
Sadly, I predict otherwise. I strongly suspect that "books," as we call them now, will soon go the way of You Tube and other content-saturated sites. Once the economic barriers to entry into the market (i.e.; printing and distribution)have been diminished, there will be so much free, unfiltered, unfettered content available to readers that it will be impossible to sort through it all. I'm holding on to my bookcases in order to remain sane.

Marilyn Peake said...

Here’s my explanation for a third choice for Choose Your Own E-book Adventure, entitled E-books are so yesterday ...

Personally, I think eBooks are only the beginning. I think eventually we’ll go way beyond that. We’ll probably have books read by holographic actors, virtual reality sets for reading books, thin throwaway eBook reading devices, and lots of other futuristic reading devices. I had great fun brainstorming ideas for some very futuristic reading devices for my latest science fiction novel. (I can’t share them here because I would be giving away too many spoilers, but they definitely go way beyond eBooks.)

Marilyn Peake said...


You might already know this, but CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BOOKS, once published by Bantam Books, are now published by Chooseco and available for the Kindle:

AstonWest said...

Of course, it will happen.

And to think, the entire idea of an electronic CYOA-type book was spawned (albeit for comic books) in the movie BIG... :-P

JDuncan said...

If I were to venture to guess, I'd say they will become more and more mainstream as the years go by. We need a generation to grow up reading on them to get to that point, and children's books is one of the places that ebooks have the capacity to really change things in a big way. We'll see.

Matera the Mad said...

LOL I like happy endings.

Well, I mean, at least not everybody gets killed.

I happen to like e-books because it is easier to make the font larger. Glasses don't help with glaucoma ;-)

Whirlochre said...

Ebooks are bound to come over all multimedia, as you've already predicted elsewhere, which ought to offer great scope for deconstructional appendices, like you get with TV shows these days — how we kept the alien's heads attached to their bodies during the fight scenes etc. Maybe authors will include scenes from their video diaries, recorded during the multiple nervous breakdowns experienced throughout the writing process. CHAPTER TWO The Werewolf's Arrival (plus here's how I fared on Valium).

As for the adventure stories, we might soon see online narrative websites where you could fish for downloadable peer-generated plot and character content, anything from sci-fi to soap-fi. I haven't gone looking, but maybe this exists already. MMOAS.

What will be interesting is when ebooks begin to be produced that aren't backwards-compatible with books, ie literature that can exist only in e form.

WitLiz Today said...

Did anybody else get lost playing this game? I think at least one hundred commenters are missing.

I guess I was lucky. I found my way back. But not before 40 plus commenters beat me to it.

What an adventure! I'm guessing CYOA books were after my time.

You know this whole Ebook vs nature thing is not on my list of things to worry about as a reader, or writer. There will always be a place for both.

I just know that I don't like to read electronically unless I'm forced to. I know I like walking into the library and picking out a good book to read. I know I like walking into Borders and smelling the freshness of all the new books. I like running through the aisles in slo-mo, the music in the background matching the rhythm of my feet, my long, white-grey hair floating behind me like ribbons of static electricity so I look like this way cool beautiful older person.

Face it, techno lovers, you can't experience poignant moments like these with an EBook!

And speaking of electricity. What if we lose it for any length of time? For whatever reason, like, say a natural disaster, or maybe an apocalypse. What then? Well, we're going to be shit out of luck if we're approached by mutant zombies and our phone dies just as we're screaming for help. Or our ebook dies just as we're reading, The Idiots Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse.

Technology is wonderful while we have it. We need to be prepared for the day we may not have it. So paper books will always be needed and have an audience.

And don't ever underestimate the over 50 crowd. We got clout.

Margaret said...

What a clever approach to the questions. Thank you for this. Like the old choose your own adventures, I'll need to explore all possible paths.

WhiteOpal said...

Hello Nathan and all you other amazing people.

I have been reading the ebook posts for a long time. I own a kindle and love the convenience of it, especially when I'm so tired but just want to read a few more the button, no effort at all.

But what about the writer?

I want to see my book in print one day with, of course the glossy name on the front. To smell the newness of it and flip through all those glorious pages, that I'd worked so damned hard to make a more than great story. I'm sure I'll secretly go and look at it for weeks, maybe even give it a hug and waltz around the room.

Of course I am going to be thrilled with all the ebook sales too, I want that market as well. Yes I know, I'm not greedy, just taking advantage of all the markets out there.

Isn't that what an author wants, to reach as many people as possible, so his/her story can be read?

How much say does the writer have in all this?


Other Lisa said...

This was awesome!!!

Laura Campbell said...

Ahh, the days of Encyclopedia Brown! Choose your own adventures bring back so many memories, and I wouldn't mind having the ability to see the different outcomes of my decisions. Then, on the other hand, I would lose out on the stress and anxiety, and finally the wisdom from making mistakes. Speaking directly about the outcome of e-readers, e-books, etc. I lean towards the physical book. The touch, the smell, annotating my novels. I can't give them up so quickly, but I do understand the dominance technology has over our lives. And I am sure I will eventually make my way over to the other side, but I will be going kicking and screaming. Great post Nathan!

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Last time I did this, I ended up at the post that said "the most depressing end." I couldn't remember what I chose, so I went through again today, and still ended up at Depression-ville.

Actually, what I HOPE will happen is that print books, audio books, and e-books will all coexist happily, so that books have the maximum audience.

But who knows, besides the Magic 8-Ball?

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