It's easy to forget sometimes that ebooks aren't just fiction; the nonfiction ebook is also getting very popular. One thing that's struck me, since I first started making ebooks back in 1995 with Acrobat 1.0, is that the technology allows for an ebook to be different than a printed book. Yet very few publishers of ebooks have ever taken advantage of this. Mos publishers of ebooks, being publishers of books, just take the files they have prepared for the printer and save it as a PDF. There; ebook complete, they seem to say.
This reminds me of how television shows were made initially. When television was just coming on the scene in the 1950's, producers of TV shows mostly took their radio broadcast and put a camera in front of it. They then realized they had to pay more attention to what the actors looked like, and there had to be a set since it wasn't being constructed in the audience's mind. But one fixed camera was all they needed... until somebody figured out they could pan, and zoom. And when camera prices got a bit more reasonable, then you could have two cameras.
Fast-forward to today, where you have location shots, handheld cameras, computer graphics seamlessly blended in, splitscreen, fades, wipes, tracking shots... an immense array of techniques to choose from.
With ebooks, we're really at the very beginning of the form. Authors are just starting to realize, even with fiction, the liberating possibilities of the ebook form. Length is no longer regulated by the price of printing each page. Heck, you can put in extra information... scenes that were cut, research information, alternative endings.
For non-fiction ebooks, the possibilities are even more numerous. Audio, video, interactive graphics, examples with links. An example of what can be done is shown in the video above, where Mike Matas shows off what you can do on an iPad with an interactive ebook. His new company Push Pop Press is making software so that other publishers can create works like these.
I hope publishers begin to add more into their non-fiction ebooks. I think RPG rulebooks are a perfect place to add in extras like interactive examples. Heck, even just formatting all the charts so they display properly on different size screens would be nice... But it all takes time, and so far publishers haven't been convinced the market is big enough for an ebook to warrant the time necessary to craft a special ebook edition. Publishers, it's time to recheck your assumptions as the ebook market grows at an incredible rate. The first publishers to do enhanced ebooks may be taking some risk, but they are also well positioned to prosper as the market grows.
Plus, doing an enhanced ebook is a great PR hook right now since it's so rare. The publicity value right now may well pay for the extra effort. It's good marketing, folks.
A tip of the hat to my son Xander Peterson for pointing me towards this TED Talk... good spotting!