I gotta say the fact that the 'bells and whistles' on enhanced eBooks is not a universal favourite surprises me. And heartens me. Hey, girls and boys, c'mon over to paper.
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Can bells and whistles save the book?Enhanced e-books bring images, animation, soundtracks and games to the reading experience -- but don't add much
BY LAURA MILLER
Almost two years after the launch of the iPad, Apple distributed a free copy of a new iBook, “The Yellow Submarine,” based on the 1968 animated movie by the Beatles. This e-book — what’s usually referred to as an “enhanced e-book” in the trade — featured the traditional images and text of a kid’s picture book, plus video and music clips. There were also interactive animated features, such as a whack-a-mole bit in the Sea of Holes with heads of the Beatles popping in and out as you tap them. It’s the Future! — exactly the sort of thing various techno-pundits have been insisting that publishers must devise to make e-books seem more valuable to readers.
I sat down with my iPad to read “The Yellow Submarine” with a friend’s 7-year-old twins, and within 10 minutes, we were embroiled in a conflict that captured the central, nagging problem with the enhanced e-book concept. Desmond liked playing with the interactive features — the digital equivalent of the tabs and flaps in a paper pop-up book — although few of these could steal his ongoing fascination away from the iPad’s system-wide “pinch to expand” feature. Nini was aggravated by her brother’s pinching, tapping and swiping, and shouted, “I’m trying to read the story!” (Neither one cared much about either the music or the videos, incidentally.) Instead of a cozy interlude of reading, we had a fight.
Attempts to invigorate books with video and other digital bells and whistles keep bumping up against this fundamental problem: You can’t really pay much attention to anything else while you’re reading, so in order to play with any of these new features, you have to stop reading. If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, then the attentional tug of all these peripheral doodads is vaguely annoying, and if you’re not engaged by the story, they aren’t enough on their own to win you over.
The latest crop of enhanced e-books struggle mightily to overcome this dilemma. The vast majority of such books are kids’ titles, for the simple reason that literature for young children has always included images. The pictures give kids something to look at as the books are being read aloud to them, and this helps cement the relationship between printed and spoken language. Every children’s e-book offers a read-aloud feature in which a recorded voice recites the text. Most offer the ability to tap individual words to hear them spoken aloud. Parents understandably believe that these apps will help their kids learn to read — and that they make tempting, but still educational, alternatives to television.