Why Fancy eBooks Make Me Nervous

MCMThursday, November 12, 2009

I love eBooks. I really do. I think they're the way the majority of people are going to read in the future, and I think it's great. Less paper, less waste, better delivery... it'll be great. But I'm really iffy about this notion that eBooks will be able to break down the walls that separate literature from TV, movies and games. No, I'm not just iffy. I'm downright scared.

I think maybe the issue is that a lot of the writers and pundits who go googly-eyed at the notion don't write in other media. If all you write are novels, integrated video is like free candy for a six-year-old. Ooo! Gimme! Tasty and shiny and wonderful! Everything I do will have some!

But stop for a minute and think: you know all those novels you've seen turned into movies, and you say to yourself: "Damn, they ruined the book." That's not just because the filmmakers were stupid. Many books are unfilmable, and many others require absolute genius to film them right. If you integrate something half-assed into your eBook, it's not going to "enhance" the experience for anyone, it's going to ruin it. Your carefully-crafted words will be meaningless next to a poorly-acted scene, or sound that wasn't quite up to snuff, or a director who picked an angle that was too jarring.

And you think to yourself: that won't happen to me. I'll make sure it's the best of the best, and everything will be just as I want it. But then I have to ask: what is the budget of your book? Even just five minutes of video will run you tens of thousands of dollars. If you insist on quality, it'll grow exponentially. Do you want to spend a hundred thousand dollars getting a few "extras" for your eBook? How much will that raise the sticker price, and how much of the increase will you see? You're not "increasing value" for your customers, you're giving them risky gimmicks, and probably paying through the nose to do it. eBooks should make everyone MORE money, not less.

Novelists are used to a world where they control the whole picture. The desk is mahogany, the heroine has curly chestnut brown hair and freckles, and the sky was a gorgeous shade of orange and yellow mixed with purple. That's the way it was. You can't control those things in real life. Your desk might be oak, your heroine might not have freckles, and your sky will just be a standard orange sunset. That's the best you can do. Get used to it. It's what you're signing up for.

Don't be in such a rush to declare fancy eBooks the future of writing. They're not going to be nearly as good as you think.

All content released under a Creative Commons BY-NC license except the contents of "TV" section, which belong to their respective owners.