Guest Post from David Farland: The Role of Enhanced Books in the Future of Publishing

David Farland, bestselling author of the Runelords series and others, is a good friend and a brilliant business-minded writer. He has a new book coming soon called Nightingale, and I’m happy to help promote it with a guest post today. Take it away, Dave!

Right now, the publishing world is in turmoil. People are buying electronic books in huge numbers. In fact, it appears that as of today, more than fifty percent of all sales are electronic. This puts traditional paper book publishers in a bind. You see, most books earn only a modest profit. But if paper books are shipped to bookstores and then returned, they get destroyed, and thus don’t make any money at all. In fact, the publisher then goes into the hole on every book he publishes.

The losses right now are so large in the industry, that as one agent put it, “Nobody in New York wants to be in this business right now.” That’s why bookstore chains like Borders and major distributors like Anderson News have gone bankrupt.

So where do the publishers make up for those losses? By selling electronic books for the Kindle, Nook, iPad and similar devices. The problem is, so many electronic books will come out in the next year, according to Bowker’s Identifier Services (the guys who make the ISBNs that you see on the back of a book), that the market will be flooded with over three million new books.

Why? Because authors who couldn’t find agents or publishers last year are self-publishing their novels this year. I was talking to a bestseller last night who groused that in the past week, he’d run into three different “authors,” none of whom had sold more than fifty books, all of whom were self-published.

That creates a problem for readers. It means that we now have to try to figure out which of those novels are worth buying and reading and which should never have been published in the first place.

Some of those novels may look good on the outside. They might have cover quotes from the author’s friends. They might have gorgeous illustrations. But inside, maybe halfway through a book, you might find that the story falls apart.

In fact, a lot of criminals are out there right now trying to sell e-books which Tracy Hickman has labeled “Frankensteins.” These are novels stolen from bits of other novels and cobbled together in a way to look like a legitimate book. The “author” hopes to steal a couple of dollars from unwary readers. Sure, it’s not a lot of money, but in some countries, like Nigeria, a few dollars goes a long way. If there are no laws against it (and in some countries there aren’t), the thief doesn’t even have to worry about getting punished.

How are we going to combat crummy novels? How are we going to get past the Frankensteins? Ten years ago we had gatekeepers in the industry—literary agents and editors—who made sure that only the best novels got published. It’s true that the system was flawed, but at least there was a system.

So who are our new gatekeepers going to be?

The truth is that there will be new kinds of publishers. Right now, I’m starting a company with my partner Mile Romney, called East India Press. We’re going to published “enhanced novels.”

Enhanced books are text files, like regular books, but they also combine elements like film clips, music, video games, author interviews, audio files, illustrations, and animations. They’re part book, part movie, part game, perhaps. These books are then then sold electronically to be read on your iPad, phone, computer, and so on.

Are enhanced books the real future of publishing? There is good reason to think so. You see, making a beautiful book in this market will cost tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a bar to most wannabe authors. So money alone will limit the competition.

These new publishers will still have to establish their own credibility. They’ll have to select great books, create superior products, and develop a “brand” presence. In other words, you’ll want to read the books because of who the publisher is and what they represent.

A hundred years ago, that’s the way that books were bought in the first place. If you went to the bookstore, the books were ordered by publisher. You might pick through the piles and find that a certain editor liked the same kind of “science fictional stories” that you did, and that became the place that you visited over and over again.

There will be other ways to judge a book. It might come from an author with a long list of awards, or great cover quotes from independent review agencies, or maybe the fact that the book is a bestseller will give it a lot of credibility.

So I expect enhanced books to become the dominant art form for novels in the next two years, replacing and outselling simple e-books on the bestseller lists, and even outselling hardbacks and paperbacks within a couple of years. As my agent, Russell Galen put it, “Enhanced books are the entire future of publishing.”

Now, I’ve published some fifty books in science fiction and fantasy. I’ve won a number of awards and my books have been translated into thirty languages. I worked for years as the lead judge for one of the largest writing contest in the world. I’ve trained authors like Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, and Stephenie Meyer who have gone on to become #1 international bestsellers.

So I know books. I know a good story when I see one, and I know how to fix a story when it needs fixing. Given this, and my own background as a novelist, videogame designer, and movie producer, it seemed like starting a new type of publishing company was a must.

In fact, I believe in this new medium so much, I’m even putting out my next novel through this publishing company. It’s called Nightingale, and tells the story of Bron Jones, a young man abandoned at birth and raised in foster care. He discovers that he’s not quite human, and suddenly finds himself at the center of international intrigue.

This is a model for the new publishing industry. I think it’s a great book, and I could have sold it through normal channels. But this is the best way to go. So we’re offering the book on our site at www.nightingalenovel.com. You can buy it on November 4 in hard cover, for your e-reader, or in enhanced mode for the more advanced e-readers, or we even have an emulator so that you can run it in enhanced mode on any computer. It also has a forty-five minute soundtrack, lots of art, optional notes from the author and other features. In the future we may add a game or trailers. I believe this is the way books–good books–will be done in the future. I invite you to check it out, and check out our new company, East India Press.
If you’re a writer, look into our short story writing contest while you’re there. You could win $1000. You can find out about more about the East India Press or the writing contest at www.EastIndiaPress.com.

9 Responses to “Guest Post from David Farland: The Role of Enhanced Books in the Future of Publishing”

  1. David says:

    Good luck to his company. I think he’s right about author interviews and extra features being important to the industry. But an accompanying soundtrack. I can’t see that attracting me to be honest.

  2. Brent says:

    I was skeptical about enhanced books when I first heard of them around the launch of the iPad; they seemed like a gimmick to make the idea that an LCD tablet could compete with real e-readers seem less ridiculous. But a well-done soundtrack and good interior illustrations would be really cool, and those features could work on Kindles too, while people could use tablets or computers for games and trailers. The Way of Kings and the Leviathan trilogy sold me on the interior art idea. And it added a lot to the mood when I listened to Star Wars soundtracks while reading the books. So now I’m looking forward to trying enhanced books. I don’t think they would be enough to convince me to read on an LCD screen, but if you could get Amazon/B&N on board with the features that don’t require color or video, they would be great on a dedicated e-reader like the Kindle.

  3. SeekingPlumb says:

    I LOVE my physical books, but enhanced ebooks sound intriguing. Hmm…

    Great article!! Thanks for sharing. I’m going to keep my eye on East India Press!

  4. Tyler Mills says:

    @Dan. Do you think that aspiring writers should still plan on submitting and trying to get published the normal way despite all the e-book upheaval stuff?

  5. Adam says:

    The enhanced novels are an interesting idea, but I don’t think that they will take over the majority of the marketplace within two years as Dave expects. The problem right now is that we’re at a crossroad in terms of publishing. I read a lot, and I still purchase and read exclusively paper books, I have an e-reader that my brother bought for me last Christmas and it’s currently collecting dust. I don’t like the idea of trying to read a novel on a screen of any kind, I like having my books.

    The ability of people to self-publish their own novels because of the abundance of e-readers in the market does create the problem of finding the few books worth reading through all the dross. Because of this, the main publishing companies are still probably going to be viable methods of publishing because they have the reputation amongst reading as serving as the gatekeepers. The idea of a ‘brand presence’ is really the basis for how we purchase nearly everything, especially if you don’t have any preference between different options, the brand is often what will sway your decision.

    Many of the things that Dave mentions as being part of his Enhanced books are interesting, but not necessarily going to sway me to buy a book. Is a film clip going to make me buy a book? No, that is the reason that I don’t think book trailers are effective advertising methods, you’re mixing different mediums and trying to use a visual medium (film) to sell a non-visual method of storytelling (books). The idea of illustrations and animations fall into the same area for me. Mixing media doesn’t work for me.

    Would a videogame based upon the game make me want to buy the game more? If it was a good game it might be interesting to look at, but again you’re mixing mediums there. Another part of the problem with a videogame for a book is that you’re crossing mediums. While the number of people who both read books and play videogames may be increasing, I don’t know if it is all that high. Personally I play mostly role-playing games that generally take anywhere from 30-80 hours to play. Do I want to play a game that long for each book that I read? No, I might as well just play games and not read the books at all.

    Author interviews are interesting, but they’re not really a selling point to me. There are a few authors that I will look up interviews for, but it’s because I really enjoy quite a few books that they’ve written, not just one book.

    For music or other audio files, I don’t know. I used to read while listening to music, but anymore I tend to find it distracting. Other audio files that people might use for books would include what? Pronunciation guides? Samples of what the author hears as the character voices? Again, neat ideas, but it’s not going to sell me a book.

    With Enhanced Books there is also going to be a question of balance. Is the book going to be the main focus? Or is the videogame? How much music is there going to be? Is the music an original piece commissioned for the book or is it a previously existing work? What happens when an author writes the book to be read in a certain time to the music (i.e. a performance by a character in the story) and I read faster or slower than the author intended? Now I have to change my reading habits to fully experience the book the way the author intended because of how the music plays into the story. What happens when a company decides that they want to put a lot of effort into every aspect of the enhanced book? When will we see the monstrosity that is a fully developed video game for computer/PS3/Xbox along with a feature length movie (complete with a full score) and the book? When this happens (and it will if these succeed) when is the hugely expensive enhanced book going to come out? You’re not going to get a person who wants to read to spend $100 for the full package, and if they allow people to purchase the individual parts, people are only going to purchase the parts they want (the book people will buy the book, the moviegoers will buy the movie, and the gamers will buy the game).

    So are enhanced books the future as Dave thinks? I don’t know. I think they will be a measurable portion of the market if not a very sizeable portion. I don’t think traditional books will ever stop, what will probably happen with traditional books is that bookstores will continue to disappear. I love Barnes & Noble and I purchase most of my books from them. However, selling almost exclusively through Amazon eliminates one of the biggest expenses of a publisher for traditional books because the customer pays for the shipping expense.

    I’m an avid reader and I will continue to watch all of my options for how to read. As new options such as e-readers or enhanced books continue to become more popular the proportion of people reading hard copies of books will obviously decrease. However, I don’t see physical books being completely phased out anytime soon.

  6. I think the two-years-until-takeover prediction might be a little optimistic, but I certainly do agree that we are going in that direction. We’re not quite at critical mass yet, but we’re headed there. Dave, one of the things you might consider is having a division of East India Press focus on enhanced textbooks, particularly at the high school and college level. This seems like a natural fit for the idea of an enhanced book. (Can you imagine how nice it would have been to have videos and interactive models in your college chemistry book? And since that is the demographic most likely to own iPads and other readers…)

    Anyway, thanks for the post!
    -Derek

  7. INteresting insights. I’m excited to see what happens with ebooks and publishers and your new co.

  8. Craig says:

    I’m presuming that adding in all these pointless gimmicks is going to bump up the price of E-books even more than they are now?

    Wouldn’t you be better off trying to come up with a business plan that allows you to reduce the prices you charge so you can compete financially with these ‘wannabe authors’ who are selling their books for a couple of dollars.

  9. Harbinder says:

    As interesting as the idea of enhanced books are, I believe to use the cost of producing such a book to stem the flood of e-books may not be the best way to go about it. There will be people who have the funds to produce such work but none of the talent and there are those who do not have tens of thousands of dollars to produce an enhanced book but are great writers.

    There have been legendary authors such as Ray Bradbury and Stephen King who suffered great financial trouble before publishing their first book. There must be another way to stem the flood of non-quality e-books.

    Are we going to deprive the next generation of writer’s the opportunity to be published especially to be self-published simply because they don’t have the money to do so?

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