Joeanna Rebello Fernandes | TNN
Between the covers
E-Books Are Entertaining And Informing The Reader In New Ways, With Audio Clips And Google Maps. Time To Enter Shift
Among its touted virtues, the eBook has won much praise for its versatility, its zero weight and lighter price-tag. That it can be purchased in the middle of the night, on a whim, in the loo; that it saves paper, crosses devices and defines words like ‘anamnesis’ instantly are what’s furthering its case in the books’ market. That it can also heighten the reader’s experience beyond the word, and animate a subject via images and sounds has some writers and publishers excited and keen to try out every trick in the eBook.
Pradeep Chakravarthy, the historian, has a couple of them up his digital sleeve. Three months ago, the writer recently released his 3-year-old travel/temple handbook ‘Lesser Known Temples in Tamil Nadu: A Historian’s Guide’ in digital form, with Google maps, photographs and 26 audio clips (the whole package weighs around 20 Mb). The last addition comprises specific temple chants and verses dedicated to each of the temples he compasses; each chapter contains around two audio clips embedded in the text. The chants were sung by Pradeep’s wife Anusha.
“When Pradeep approached me with the assignment of e-publishing Lesser Known Temples…, I told him we ought to add value to it,” says Sudhakar K S, proprietor of Swathi Soft Solutions, a company that started life as a software service provider. Having cut his teeth on audio-visual instructional manuals on CD and DVD (on subjects like yoga and bharatnatyam), Sudhakar believed he was ready to take print to digital platforms and help them capitalise on their new medium with multimedia improvements. His digital versions of Lakshmi Devnath’s graphic series on Carnatic music legends, ‘Pictures of Melody,’ offers readers audio samples of the protagonists’ music.
According to a global survey conducted last year by the Danish educational eBook publisher, Bookboon, 29.2% of the Indian readers polled claimed that by 2015 eBooks would account for 50% or more of their book consumption. The survey also revealed that by next year 13.1% would divide their reading equally between paper and pixel. The going may be slow, but it is promising given that smartphone sales will cross 60 million and tablets, five million, this year — both devices amenable to reading — although Bookboon reckons it is tablets and e-readers (of which sales are poor in India) that will really turn the eBook tide. And as it gains a wider readership, it will grow beyond the ‘book’.
“Enhanced and interactive eBooks that plan to add additional media layers like music, video will also be experimented with, but getting the right balance will be of utmost importance,” says Santanu Chowdhury, co-founder of Swiftboox.in, an aggregation and distribution platform for eBooks in English and Indian languages. “The future is extremely bright for digital content, however, it (the crossover) will not happen overnight. It (reading) is a matter of habit, so it will take a bit more time; we think about 18-24 months will be the tipping point. As more content comes online, people will get exposed to eReading and other drivers like the explosion in internet broadband, greater mobility, pervasive devices (smart phones, tablets) will only fuel digital consumption of eBooks,” he holds.
Abroad, companies are rounding up experts from publishing, IT and multimedia to create e-books that do everything but serve up tea (perhaps that too). They’re accessing premier photo and video archives, commissioning music, voiceovers and graphics, and appending it to the text to create a multidimensional experience for the reader.
Sudhakar believes Indian publishers are not pushing the envelope far enough. This is probably because returns on investment (to embellish an eBook) are not yet promising enough, given the less-than-2%-size of the Indian eBook market. Amish Tripathi, author of the popular Shiva Trilogy relies on his business acumen (he’s an IIM-Calcutta alumnus) to make a sale. It’s what prompted him to create slick book trailers (with a soundtrack) that pop up in digital versions of his books and tempt towards the next instalment in the series. While Tripathi is optimistic about the future of the multi-media eBook, he points up the expenses involved in creating high-quality interactive content. “The eBook market in India is simply not big enough to justify this investment at present. Maybe in a few years, when it has grown big enough, you will see professionallyproduced, interactive eBooks being launched,” he says. “Having said that, I must say for any fantasy writer an eBook is a very exciting medium. Compared to a physical book, one can share a lot more of the world in which the books exists through an eBook, through interactive maps, illustrations and explanations linked through hypertext.”
Some say interactive add-ons will only benefit instructional/ informative books and take away from genres like fiction, distracting the reader or interrupting the narrative flow. Others point out that photographs and maps in paper books have never done them a disservice.
“Perhaps publishers should have dedicated departments to integrate several media,” suggests Rashmi Bansal, author of several entrepreneurial books like ‘Take Me Home’ and ‘Poor Little Rich Slum’. Bansal had toyed with the idea of including a virtual walk-through of Dharavi the slum in question, in the eBook, thinking it would have added action, and value, to the text, but it never happened. She might go interactive with her crowd-sourced e-publishing venture in partnership with Westland called Bloody Good Book BGB. The initiative will solicit complete English manuscripts across genres from the public, and put these up online for a referendum. The winning vote will be developed into an eBook by BGB with Westland taking it to print.
It may be early days, but this could usher in a new chapter in e-publishing. firstname.lastname@example.org