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If I had a pound...

A recent piece in the Economist proudly proclaims The Real Future of Electronic Literature. I read this and groaned. I have read so many times how the electronic platform will allow a transformation of literature - yet there is a very good reason that most of these forms drop by the wayside. They are novelties that aren't as good as just reading a boring old book, whether in paper format or as an ebook.

As the Economist piece points out, modern story-led video games are the closest we have to a true electronic book that truly makes use of what the medium can offer. And, of course, they have been a huge success. But they are very different beasts in terms of the investment required to produce them than is a novel. In fact, they are probably closer related to that other alternative medium form, the movie. And just like movies, games will always be relatively small in number and no challenge to the written word because the market is so different.

The Economist article is partially driven by the book Arcadia, which I reviewed here. As I pointed out then, I really couldn't see the point of the interactive version (you can see more details of the interactive app and download it here), which essentially divides the book into bitesized chunks where the reader can decide on the sequence they are read. As I pointed out then, 'As a reader, I don't want to do the author's job for him. I want to be led - that's the whole point of reading a book. If I wanted to write my own book I would, and often have.' It's just unnecessary work for the reader with no discernible benefit. And it doesn't really add to the experience.

We've seen all sorts of enhancements to the book suggested. There were CD-ROM interactive books, most successfully probably the Encarta encyclopaedia. Now long gone. There have been ebooks with soundtracks, like the Byook. Never quite made it. And there have been interactive books for tablets, like Solar System for iPad. I very much liked this app when I reviewed it, but even then it felt like a novelty. It was fun to play with, but I couldn't possibly have read it 'cover to cover.' And interestingly this kind of app seems to have gone into terminal decline. Pushed hard on the release of the iPad, these interactive books did well for the first couple of titles. but since then they have not sold particularly well and, because they are costly to make, have never had a wide range of titles.

Realistically, if we want ebooks that are more than just an electronic copy of a paper book, with interactivity and all those good things, we need a format that is easy, quick and cheap to add to the basic words and pictures. Arguably the closest we have come to that is a blogging platform like Blogger, where Now Appearing is hosted. It might not be sophisticated, but there is a form of interactivity in the links you'll find above, and it's something I can do as a writer without employing an expensive designer for months. But anyone expecting the Economist-style revolution is, I think, living in interactive book cloud cuckoo land.

It ain't going to happen.


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