Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are Non-Interactive Books Going to Be the Black & White Movies of the Future?


When we talk about e-books, we mainly think of them as rough, imperfect translations of a paper book. The illustrations within a paper book go straight into the e-book, and while interactive e-books exist and offer some intriguing potential, they haven't yet gone mainstream.

There was another time in another medium where there was a new innovation that afforded new possibilities, and that was color coming to movies. It was initially an expensive novelty, but even after it grew more affordable, "serious" movies were mainly still in black and white. People still associated black and white with newspapers and newsreels, and it lent a more "realistic" look. It wasn't until decades after the introduction of color that it became truly mainstream.

Now it's black and white that's the novelty. It's a nostalgic throwback. And sure, many of us love old movies, but it would have seemed strange if James Cameron had tried to make Avatar in black and white.

There is a world of possibilities afforded by the format of e-books on tablets. Books could be colorful, interactive, three dimensional. Imagine the ease of a hyperlinked choose your own adventure novel (no more having every finger stuck in the page) or instructional videos within a cookbook. A lot of this already exists on tablets. Who knows what's next? What about a book that interacts with your TV to cast spells? Oh yeah, that exists now too.

Right now these are novelties, tablet adoption hasn't yet gone truly mainstream, and we might even feel they cheapen the experience or transform it into something other than a book. But will there be a Gone With the Wind or Wizard of Oz that pioneers the new mold, goes mainstream, and shows people what is possible?

Can you envision a time when it will seem strange to kids that old books are just, well, black and white?

Art: Saint Hieronymus - Follower of Joos van Cleve






47 comments:

Authoress Anonymous said...

Well, black and white films or not my kids are reading all of them. I'm not even a fan of audio books because the create the voices for me. I can't see myself buying my future children any interactive electronic book so black and white it is!

Rick Daley said...

I think it's somewhat ironic...Adding an audio/visual element to books in effort to enhance them, but if you think about it, when has the movie been better than the book?

Austin said...

I think they both have their place. Sony's new Wonderbook toy-book-thingy will never replace books, but it could augment the reading experience if done right. Technology can make things better, but some things will never truly go away. Books are like bicycles. We can improve them, add to them, change how they look, but you still have to pedal them to make them go. Mopeds and Segways haven't destroyed bikes. Like old school black and white books, there will always be people that want them.

Speaking of technology improving stuff, I'm listening to a graphic audio book right now. It's got voices and music and sound effects and it's awesome. Way more entertaining than just hearing a dude read it--I always hate when deep voiced men turn on their lady voices for other characters, especially in romantic scenes. It won't work for every genre, but like interactive ebooks, it's a nice option to have.

Michael A. Lewis said...

As always, artists will choose the appropriate medium for their art.

Subjects that can best be presented as a printed book, will be so formatted. Subjects that require interactivity will be enhanced through interactive media.

ebooks are in the "playing with the toys" stage right now. This will settle out as the public gets used to the novelty of the new medium, and authors begin to choose, for reasons of esthetics and content, the appropriate medium for their works.

Anonymous said...

Many of the interactive ebooks look like glorified websites right now. They could work well as linked companion books, to follow up with research or further exploration, such as with an historical novel. There could be integrated teaching notes. Skeleton Creek used the links with videos, and I'm sure there are many examples where traditional books have used websites. When does the technology take over so much so that it is no longer a book?

Tracy said...

Even with all of this advanced technology, Retina display iPads and Kindle Fires, people still prefer paper or e-ink displays for reading a novel. That is the rub. The technology to have interactive books has existed for some time, yet, few want to blur the lines between the experience of imagining and the experience of having the imagery fed to them.

Do you prefer a graphic novel or a traditional novel? The graphic novel is a bridge between two mediums, and it works for some genres, but not most. I think the same will be said of interactive books. For children’s books or material that was formally illustrated or a graphic novel, it’s a natural progression. For the average drama or crime novel, people will still prefer the written word.

For periodicals, a mix of media will become the norm. For some texts, it will always be a written word. Can you imagine the Quran or New Testament as a graphic novel or interactive e-book?

abc said...

Is this like All Your Base Are Belong to Us?

Also, I wish James Cameron had never made Avatar at all!

Also, I refuse to make any guesses about the future. I am still amazed that I can speak to someone in a different location on a magical device.

Mr. D said...

Imo, a book is something you read. If it's interactive, (fiction, anyway,) it seems to me like it would be more like a "gaming" thing.

Sarah McCabe said...

God, I hope not. I read books to read books. The only interaction I want with the story is within my own imagination.

The thing is, I don't think the analogy works. Color movies are a technical improvement over black and white movies, but they don't change anything about the actual format of the media. Making books interactive is a drastic change of the actual medium, not a technical improvement the way hand written books were a technical improvement over oral storytelling and printed books were a technical improvement over hand written books and ebooks are a technical improvement over printed books. It's a completely different type of change.

Peter Dudley said...

It all depends on the tools, right? These things will never become commonplace until the tools make it so easy virtually anyone can create them. Right now they take a huge investment. But 40 years ago, not many people had video cameras, yet today we can all instantly get amateur video of anything minutes after it occurs because people can shoot and post directly to youtube or facebook from their phones.

Web sites started out that way, too. Remember 1995, when Javascript was invented? Before that, there was no browser-based programmability, and just to get a basic HTML page up on a web site required knowledge of DNS. How times have changed in 16 years. Anyone can go to a number of free places to create an interactive blog with all kinds of widgets. It has opened up whole new creative realms that didn't exist two decades ago.

So can I imagine a time when non-interactive ebooks are like today's black and white movies? Yeah. But it's a long, long way off (especially if you're measuring in internet time).

Connie B. Dowell said...

I agree with Sarah McCabe. Interactive ebooks aren't really novels with some extras. They are totally different media. Furthermore the existence of one new medium doesn't mean the death of an older one. Books are pretty deeply ingrained in our culture, despite what many educators bemoaning standardized test scores might say. I can't see them disappearing anytime soon. Even though T.V. has been around for a very long time, people still listen avidly to their favorite radio stations.

P. Kirby said...

Normally, I strive not to be a Luddite, but the whole "interactive novel" idea holds no appeal to me. If I want to "chose my own adventure," I'll pop Gears of War, Halo or Borderlands into the XBox. But if I want to be "told" a story, I'll watch a movie or read a novel, as a passive audience, letting the creator take me on a journey.

As someone said upthread, the addition of extra media, interactivity, etc., turns reading into a whole other media.

Missed Periods said...

I think that one of the major pleasures of reading is that we get to use our imagination alongside that of the author's. We get to imagine what the characters look like, and in a way, we get to decipher the code (when the author shows, not tells). I hope that e-books don't take away that experience.

Michael Pickett said...

I think that books will stay books because if someone wants interactivity, they can get it in video games, the internet, and the few books that warrant, and will be enhanced, by that interactivity.
This may just be wishful thinking, but I think that people value the experience of reading and recognize that it is different from interactive experiences.
Watching a movie in color is essentially the same experience as watching a movie in black and white, except that there is color. I don't think that reading a straight text is the same as using an interactive product.

Jaimie said...

Movies are about watching life unfold before you. Of course color was an enhancement on black and white because it more closely mimicked real life. Same with photography.

However, writers have had the option of including pictures with their books for centuries and... don't. Not always anyway. Why? Because books are about using your imagination to fill in the gaps.

Apples and oranges.

John DuMond said...

Reading is supposed to be an immersive experience. Too much "interactivity" would ruin that, at least for me. I'd hate to see our cultures gadget obsession intrude on my reading.

abc said...

damn, I liked the title the other way!

Anonymous said...

No.

Anonymous said...

Tracy, I memorized all my Sunday School verses in the original King James, but the first Bible I read cover to cover was the Picture Bible. Essentially a graphic novelization of the entire Bible, not just the New Testament.

Mostly I agree with other posters. This is apples and oranges. It is a new medium that will requires stories to be told and enjoyed in a new way. The ones I've seen so far in novels take you out of the story and just become annoying. There are some cool uses in children's books I've seen, but that's how you read to children anyway. You stop and talk about the book and the pictures as you go.

Taylor Napolsky said...

Yeah I like the way Jaime put it.

Ryan Chin said...

I'd have to say no. People will choose how they want to enjoy a story. A lot of the multimedia and interactive books are overdone and many 'readers' have commented on how it's distracting. I've billed my memoir as a multimedia experience with two dozen videos that readers can view if they want to. Many readers have told me that they didn't check out the videos until the end or they never bothered at all. If it's labeled a "book" then the written word should be the ultimate medium and the rest of the 'stuff' should be extras that add to the story. It's all about what you want. I find 3D movies to be too much sometimes and opt for the regular (and cheaper) version of the movie. Good ol book-books will always have a place. Plus...it's trendy to Unplug now. Pretty soon it'll be retro to read a hardcover. All the hipsters will be doing it.

Ryan Chin said...

...shameless plug. In honor of summer break and teachers (heavy teaching theme in the book), I've lowered the price of my multimedia ebook to 99 cents for the month of June.
Amazon and B&N.
iPad version coming soon!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Creative forms of story exist for a reason - they appeal to something innate about the reaction of people to the medium. So I agree with Peter and Michael - as the technology evolves, artists will find ways to use it. What becomes popular will depend on how well they use it, and if it can touch people.

Doug said...

I wouldn't be surprised if video replaces the now-boring "camera and microphone" style of fiction. But it can't replace writing that depicts all of the senses, and that gives us insight into what the PoV character is thinking and feeling.

Emily Wenstrom said...

Yes, definitely.

I think there will be a wide range of what that means -- some will practically be half movie or half video game, others will be much tamer.

But I do think we're just a generation away from kids not understanding why, in a print book, they can't just touch a word and immediately get its definition or pronunciation.

Yvette Carol said...

Hi Nathan! Nah, I think it might work out kind of like the way they thought movies would make tv obsolete. There will be amazing innovations in digital reading but there will always be the physical book as well. If not I shall be very sad!!

Amy Saia said...

I notice that when I'm immersed in things such as t.v., iPod, Kindle, internet, I have a horrible attention span. But when I sit down and clear my mind to start in on a real honest-to-goodness book, I feel much calmer and absorb the story on a deeper level. For me, having attachments imbedded in a book file would be a brain scattering experience.

Nathan Bransford said...

I disagree with those who say interactive or multimedia elements makes it something other than a book. Think of it as the logical extension of illustrations. Before, illustrations added to the enjoyment of the text. Now imagine color illustrations. Now imagine moving color illustrations. Now imagine moving color illustrations that you can interact with.

As you follow that progression, it's still a book. They're just illustrating the story.

And that's just for a narrative. Maybe a fully multimedia product for nonfiction starts being something else entirely, but there are a lot of ways a novel could feature unique elements while essentially remaining a novel.

Mr. D said...

I remain unconvinced. I still think it's "gaming" at the interactive point.

D.G. Hudson said...

They'll be classics, something for the reader who wants to exercise their imagination.

I agree with Rick's comment.

D.G. Hudson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen W. Mallon said...

IMO--it'll be a definite genre with hardcore followers, but won't necessarily take over. Well, maybe in like 200 years. But not for a while.

They won't be like movie versions of books. They'll be like "enhanced" books...books with extra stuff...

Helen W. Mallon said...

My client K.R. Sands has published her first book of short stories,Boy of Bone, beautifully illustrated by Jon Lezinski...the stories are inspired by exhibits at Philadelphia's Mutter Museum of medical oddities. An Ipad app version of the book is coming out this month. A character hums in her head; you'll be able to touch the text and the hymn will play. You'll be able to read about the original Mme Sunday who grew a horn out of her forehead. Everything that can be referenced, will be. How cool is that?

Anonymous said...

I think I've said this before. A lot of the interactive fiction stuff has been heavily explored, especially back in the early 80's. I'm not sure why folks think interactive reading experiences are something new. Check out the Get Lamp documentary.

However, you walk the slippery slope of turning a book into a comic book, which isn't a bad idea. Adult fiction is way too long for the typical adult that only has a half hour to read at lunch time, which explains why I see so many adults reading shorter YA fiction.

Mira said...

I'm really surprised people think this won't happen! I respectfully disagree. I think whenever you offer possiblities for creativity, people will pick them up and go far with them.

And there are so many new possiblities here.

The interactivity possiblities for non-fiction are enormous. Links directly to source material, interactive Q and A, quizzes with immediate feedback, animated pictures, integrated videos.

With fiction, too. It will probably start with animated covers. Can you imagine the appeal of certain genre covers being animated? Romance, with animations? Sci Fi, with animations? People may start browsing just to watch the covers. People may buy the book because they like watching the animation on the cover.

There are also a number of possiblities before or after the book. Authors can add illustrations, animations, colored fonts, animated fonts all kinds of things. They can set up links to songs, videos, websites, games to enhance and continue the experience.

In terms of inside the fiction story, absolutely. One example: With a first person narrative, there is alot that could happen!! The narrator could directly interact with the reader. It's absolutely fascinating to think of the possiblilites.

I see this as an expanded art form. Books may come to vary based on how the story can best be told.


In addition, there may be financial charges for some of the interactions. Now THAT will be interesting to watch.

Think of all the extras that feed off of a kid's movie. Now, they could start right with the book. (Not advocating for that, but I'll eat my hat if it doesn't happen).

I predict: 25 years from now, a book without interactivity.....I agree that will be just like a black and white movie now. A specific and unusual choice of medium to fit the story.


Fascinating topic, Nathan.

wordage said...

I suspect a closer analogy than colour movies might be 3D movies - an add-on that works quite well for a while as a bit of a gimmick but never quite replaces what came before as it doesn't really deepen the storytelling

Brian Tarbox said...

Having just come back from the Wesleyan Writers Conference I'm thrilled to see this question.

It doesn't have to be dramatic to make a difference.

Reading on Kindle I can trivially get the definitions of words I don't really know the meaning of. That that make it not a book?

Some print books with many charactors include a list of charactors at the begining of the book to help you keep track. Imagine being able to click on a charactor name anywhere in the book and get that charactor's description...or a synopsis of what we know about that charactor at this point in the story!

I think little things like this can greatly enhance the reading experience of the "book"

A. M. Perkins said...

"Hey, Grandma, tell me about books when you were little."

"Well, we had to actually touch the screen to turn the page - no direct-to-brain downloads."

"Whoa..."

Matthew G. Young said...

I don't think e-books are imperfect translations of paper books at all. E-books serve the exact same purpose. It's not what the book looks like at all that matters, it's the content within. Words are words, regardless of where you get them.

Lillian Archer said...

I think it will depend on the genre. For example, a cookbook may be more amenable to "interaction" than a collection of poetry. As always, the market will determine the penetrance of this phenomena into the mainstream. Others, like JA Konrath, have talked about the possibilty of animated covers for ebooks. It is an evolving area, and potentially very cool.

Bryan Russell said...

I picture more of a dual future. For certain types of books, "interactive" elements will be beneficial in that they are interesting or increase functionality (as with cookbooks, for example). But for many types of books, the "interactive" element actually decreases interaction. In fiction, for example, the more the author provides in "interactive" elements, the less the reader's brain is doing, and the less the brain does, the lower the intellectual and imaginative interaction.

What you have then is TV. And while TV can be great, we already have TV. Making a book more like TV is more likely to make poor TV than a better book, as it weakens the very advantages that a book has over television or movies, namely the imaginative engagement, the role of the reader as a partial creator and interpreter of the story itself.

So I see both advancing. Increased "interactivity" where that is functionally relevant, but traditional text formats will always be popular, as they offer something that only they can provide.

There will likely, of course, be some artistic hybrids that do a bit of both, but I have a feeling these will be a minority, partly due to cost. Interactive media is cheaper than it once was, and will probably get more so, but high-end interactive content is always going to cost a lot more than simply creating text (with costs not just in terms of money, but in terms of time, knowledge, skills, and talent).

Naja Tau said...

What a cool thought! That never occurred to me, but you may be right, Nathan! Looks like agents may be more necessary than ever if someone has to connect authors with talented graphic artists!

Caleb said...

I've got an idea that's so beyond where mainstream is and this article made me think of it in a new way. What if books had sound tracks that went with them like movies? That's what I've thought of for years. But with tablet readers, the music could actually play at the appropriate spot without any prompting from the reader.

Caleb said...

after reading a few more... the brilliant thing about tablets is you could probably have a feature to shut off the features

Frederick Fuller said...

E-books and other e-products are the future, I think. I'm sure when the first book was produced by means of moveable type, some, perhaps many, said it was just a fad and there was nothing like a scribed text. So, with e-books.

Also, it is a boon for publishing because of cost. No paper, ink, or--the main issue--no storage. Publishers will no longer have to maintain huge warehouses to store books. No printing presses either, another big savings.

Personally, I'm loving e-books. I have a Kindle and an iPad both of which I use as readers almost exclusively. I'm 73, grew up with print, but accept e-publication wholeheartedly.

Simon Haynes said...

Hell no. Make them available by all means, but I'd rather pluck out my eyes and ears with a toothpick. A book is a book, and adding music and video and pretty pictures turns it into an 'experience'. I look forward to those as much as I do flash-based web ads.
For the record I've been a massively keen gamer since 1983. I have no problem with digital entertainment of all kinds, I just don't want my nice peaceful reading polluted with lame crap some marketing guru came up with. (And another point - maybe publishers are pushing for this to distinguish their expensive ebooks from the self-pubbed and indie titles? Big publishers have the resources to put 3D singing angels onto every page of Dan Brown's latest, after all.)

Mira said...

Hey Nathan,

Have you seen this interview with Bezos?

He addresses this topic, and I thought of this thread. I really like what he said. Basically, that a 'text only' story is its own art form and won't be replaced.

If you're interested, here's the link:

Bezo's Interview

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