iPad Pushes Big Authors Into Enhanced E-books

This week’s news from Amazon that e-book sales are already outpacing sales of regular books shows how fast the world of publishing is going from paper to bits. And while publishers fret about their future in a digital world, forward-thinking authors are embracing new opportunities to not only grab more of the revenue through digital publishing, but to also leverage the new capabilities of digital platforms and express themselves in ways that stretch beyond the printed word.

These newer forms of expression have been labeled “enhanced e-books” by some. The central idea behind the concept is the integration of other media to both enhance as well as even significantly alter the experience for the reader (or, perhaps a better word, media-consumer). So far, the actual number of enhanced e-books has been, surprisingly, few and far between, but this is quickly changing.

One of 2009’s most well-publicized enhanced e-book efforts was the release of  an enhanced edition of the novel “The Death of Bunny Munro,” which was released as an iPhone app. The book, by rocker-turned-writer Nick Cave, includes the audiobook as well as videos of Cave reading from the book.

But  Cave’s Bunny, released only nine months ago, seems almost prehistoric at this point, since it was released before the emergence of what is fast becoming the enhanced e-book platform of choice — the iPad. This past week saw two of the biggest authors in the world announce enhanced e-book efforts for that device.

Mega-author Ken Follett’s publisher Penguin announced this week it was turning his smash-hit “Pillars of the Earth” into an enhanced e-Book. The “Amplified edition” of “Pillars of the Earth” will be released as an iPad app that includes a huge cache of multimedia add-ons in the form of an author diary, behind-the-scenes footage of making book into a series on Starz, contextual video footage and an evolving “character tree” that maps out the relationships between the books characters.

While the news from Follett and Penguin shows that established authors and their publishers are eyeing enhanced e-books, last week’s news from well known Japanese author Ryu Murakami shows even bigger change is underfoot. Murakami announced he was going to publish his new novel, “A Singing Whale,” as an enhanced e-book title through a software company as an iPad app.

The news from Murakami is significant; it illustrates that not only are big authors seeing new opportunities to create works of fiction before they even publish them in the more traditional print format, but that they realize they can do this without any help from the established publishers. Murakami is publishing “A Singing Whale” without his longtime publisher Kodansha, essentially going direct to the consumer via Apple’s app marketplace. There’s a chance “A Singing Whale” may never even hit a physical book shelf.

No doubt, the recent announcements from these two big authors indicate that the very definition of what a book is will change in coming years. Just as important is the method in which many — as illustrated by Murakami — are going about creating these new forms of art. As the enhanced e-book-as-app gains traction, publishers can expect turbulent times as authors look for new ways to express themselves, with or without them.

Question of the week

Will more authors cut publishers out of the equation as enhanced e-books gain popularity?