Reading: It’s not just reading anymore

With increasing frequency, reading is becoming a multimedia activity.  Rapidly emerging enhanced books, magazines, and periodicals (both print and electronic) contain embedded videos, sound files, and other content that can be opened/viewed/listened to/interacted with by using free or inexpensive apps.  I recently read an article discussing the seemingly endless possibilities of enhanced magazines — a “buy it now” option in the Sears catalog?  The ability to pin a recipe on Pinterest that you found in a magazine in the checkout aisle?
And it’s not just periodicals.  Picture books with interactive games and videos are becoming more prevalent, and I wonder whether publishers a few years from now will even consider making a children’s book that does not have some kind of enhanced content.
And while children’s books may be the trailblazers, they’re by no means the only ones with enhanced content.  Novels for older readers have been published electronically with multiple reading options — for example, a book that begins in medias res with an option to read the story as the author initially wrote it, and one in which the events happen chronologically.  I see a world of possibilities with this kind of thinking — books where readers can choose their own adventure, choose which viewpoint character they’d prefer, or choose which plot-line to follow.  I see fantasy novels with interactive maps that let readers explore the author’s world, even embedded video games that allow them to go on adventures in that world.  I see movie tie-in editions which include trailers, deleted scenes, and interviews with actors and directors.  And let’s not forget enhanced textbooks containing interactive diagrams, adaptive self-tests at the ends of chapters, and educational games.
All of this is very exciting, but it also raises some very big questions.  First of all, what constitutes a book?  I don’t think we can define books simply as text and images anymore.  Books are becoming multimedia capsules.  Which begs the question, what does it mean to write a book?  Will writers someday be expected to write the same story from different viewpoints or with different endings?  Will they be expected to present multimedia tie-ins for their stories?  Or will it be the publisher’s job to come up with enhanced content?  Will being able to provide the enhanced material oneself make for a stronger pitch when seeking a publisher?
And how will libraries handle the collection of enhanced materials?  Should we provide eReaders or tablets with the necessary software to view enhanced content?  In order to truly provide equal access to our materials, I think we would have to.  But what would that mean for our budgets?  One could argue that, if we simply focused our collections on non-enhanced materials, we would be able offer a larger collection.  But quantity does not equal quality; if our patrons want books with embedded videos, they’re not going to care that we have three copies of the un-enhanced version.
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m very curious to hear what others think.  I’ve read hundreds of articles on eBooks in libraries, and on publishing electronically, but I haven’t heard much about how either industry is handling enhanced materials.

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