I read Mike Shatzin's blog regularly where these efforts are frequently detailed. His July 23 post was focussed on Amazon and its costs and benefits to both authors and publishers (meaning mostly the big 5, with a nod to small publishers), but a throwaway comment by him on multimedia eBooks caused me to respond. Here is his summary of multimedia eBooks:
Edward, people have been looking for the multiple-media, transmedia, etc. formula for 30 years! Voyager Expanded Books was doing this in 1990. The consumers don't buy, at least not in any numbers. "Successes" have been isolated one-offs. I have been ridiculing the idea for three decades and haven't been proven wrong yet. Someday I may be, I suppose. But in the meantime I will stick to the notion that the straight reading form is extremely hard to improve upon from a commercial perspective. It is both what people actually want AND vastly cheaper to both produce and distribute (smaller file sizes). Good luck with your experimentation, but I hope you enjoy the process because "success" is very unlikely.
My point was that the attempts at multimedia were always ill-advised. Multimedia meant for publishers producing a standard text only book, then adding in multimedia here and there to 'enhance' the text.
My idea is that multimedia has to be integral to the experience. I had at this point in our brief exchange a minor epiphany. Here is what I said:
Hi Mike :
I agree with you actually. I understand that your business is advising publishers, especially in the difficult world of eBooks and the disruption caused by the digital revolution. All I am saying is that multimedia books (with the exception of college textbooks), are not really 'books' at all. I think the chances of earning money are virtually nil - that multimedia eBooks are more akin to works of art than books to be read. I can imagine a world where the sort of agent who represents a painter also handles multimedia eBooks and you find them in art shows and galleries, not bookstores, electronic or bricks and mortar. The exception of textbooks is where I do not understand what is happening, or rather not happening. I teach History and freshman sophomore textbooks are already and have been for many years print versions of multimedia - photographs, textboxes, text, footnotes, links. Columbia University Press and the American Historical Society teamed up to produce multimedia eBooks, but they were stupidly expensive to produce and to sell, which I do not understand. One of my projects is to produce such a book, using Apple's free software. There you might see me, someday.
His short reply said it all: Complex media can make complete sense for teaching purposes. They just don't have much mass commercial appeal.
Mike Shatzkin has been in the book business for many, many years as was his father. His bread and butter is advising traditional publishers on means to navigate the digitization of text only mass market books. He and his industry are blind to anything else. Perhaps he is correct that no decent living can be made from this, but I think he is blind to the future