Why And How To Use MultiMedia To Enhance Your Ebooks

Recent surveys have shown that children are reading more and engaging with digital devices.

ElearningThey are true digital natives. But I’m 38 and while extremely comfortable with technology, I’m still part of the generation that was raised on print. I think our minds are trained to what we’ve always known so we can be resistant about the possibilities.

The enhanced e-book has been discussed for a while now, but hasn’t gone mainstream, while at the same time apps have exploded. How can we shift into using multimedia in our books? In this guest post, Harry Guinness from Bawdy Zebra explores some options.

A book no longer has to be printable.

The very idea of what makes a book is beginning to change; are eBooks still “books”? What about eBooks that would never work as print books, say ones with hundreds of pictures? If they’re still “books”, what happens if you start to include video? For years instructional books have come with companion DVDs, why not just include it in the text itself?

The technology is out there to begin creating books with more photographs than words, and even videos, slideshows and interactive web content like twitter streams. 

Now not every book should begin including photos and videos – that would be ridiculous. For example, I have a soft spot for epic fantasy (I finished the last book of the Wheel of Time in a single seventeen hour sitting; if you know what that means, I’m judging you, as well as myself!), and not for a second do I think the inclusion of reams of photos or videos would add much to my enjoyment. Likewise, a lot of fiction really won’t benefit by adding such content directly into the text – but there are still options. Here are five points on why, or how you could begin to add multimedia content to your books.

1. It costs you practically nothing.

A few years ago if you said you were going to release a book with close to one hundred full-size colour photos for the price of Big Mac Meal you would have been laughed at. But that’s what we did, it’s just not printed on paper! The additional expense of adding photos in particular is minimal. The camera in your iPhone is more than capable to take stunning photos – especially of landscapes – so why not add a few.

2. It adds to the readers experience.

This is more of a non-fiction point, but if you are writing a biography or a travelogue or anything else really, it is the perfect opportunity to include photos and videos. Nothing adds more to the experience of a travel book as photos of the stunning vistas – except perhaps an interactive 360 degree panorama. If it’s a biography, instead of just including a few pictures in the centre, litter the book with relevant photos, include videos of famous performances and speeches even!

3. Build it into the book.

I think there is a serious market for an enterprising mystery writer to write a book that builds photos and videos and audio segments into the story. I genuinely think that someone is going to have a huge hit on their hands with a book like that and if you want to have a shot and that, come, talk to me. I am interested in doing business with you!

4. Use it to make the readers see you.

In so many books, the author becomes a secondary consideration after the characters. I can’t begin to list the number of books I’ve read where the authors name is forgotten as soon as I put it down while the characters live on in my head. Why not have it that instead of a written introduction, as soon as the reader opens your book they are treated to a video of you thanking them for buying it. Suddenly the author becomes significantly more memorable.

5. More and more people are reading on these devices, make use of them.

The number of tablets out there is going up and up and by extension, the number of people reading on them. These devices all have features that are not being utilized. Differentiate yourself from the competition and use them! Don’t be left playing catch up in a few years.

If you want to see a simple example of whats beginning to be possible, please check out There Are Other Rivers by Alastair Humphreys, I worked with Alastair to create an unprintable version of his book! Go to www.ThereAreOtherRivers.com for more information.

What do you think about multimedia in books? Is it just for kids books or textbooks? How can it be used with fiction? Please do leave your thoughts or questions in the comments below.


Harry Guinness is the founder of Bawdy Zebra (http://bawdyzebra.com), a new multimedia publishing company; he worked with Alastair Humphreys (http://alastairhumphreys.com) to produce the best possible version of There Are Other Rivers available! You can get it for the iPad here (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/there-are-other-rivers/id553864798) or in loads of other formats – including dead tree – here (http://thereareotherrivers.com).

Bawdy Zebra has a load more exciting content in the works and you can find out more on Harry’s blog (http//:harryguinness.com/blog).

Top image: BigStockPhoto E-learning concept

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  1. says

    I think it’s a great idea. If we have the technology to create something interative or goes beyond plain text, why not? Also kids learn in different ways so if video added to their learning in a digital book, all the better.

    • says

      Hey Shaquanda, that’s exactly my attitude! As long as you’re separating books from being bits of dead tree stuck together with bits of dead horse it’s silly to just limit yourself to plain text. There’s definitely potential for books for young kids that teach them simple words and the alphabet and things. Or even just to combine it so that they can read along with a voice actor.

  2. says

    I think it is a great idea and I’ve been wondering myself how the idea of more interactive e-books will play out. As a historical fiction writer I think it would be great to have interactive maps at the beginning of a book. For example, a map of the Roman Empire which you could zoom in and out on, focus on particular sites where the story takes place, pull up photos etc. It would also work well for fantasy and helping a reader to get into a completely new world through maps and artwork. The possibilities are quite exciting. But, if you are not super techie and are on a budget, how accessible are these possibilities going to be at the moment? I’m interested to see where this will all go.

    • says

      Hey Adam, you might be surprised at how easy some of it is to implement. A lot of the technology is built on the web framework of HTML, CSS and JavaScript so there’s a lot of tools out there.

      For example, for the maps at the start of the book, the two ways you’d go about that is you’d either use a huge picture (maybe 16000px x 16000px) that can be scrolled around or else use google maps with a custom overlay.

      If you want to discuss this further, maybe even see about implementing something in one of your books then drop me an email.

      • says

        I think this will become more and more accessible over time, especially with the older classical maps etc in terms of being creative commons licensed or working with other creatives to create something new. This type of collaboration will definitely become more common. Exciting times!

  3. says

    This concept has been in the back of mind as I work on my first novel. I’m writing for an audience just like me and I would Fall. In. Love. With an experience that would transport me even farther away from reality than what reading already does. I’m absolutely giddy just thinking about it.

    I hadn’t considered it for my non-fiction ebooks though, but now I will, but only if I can see ways it would enhance the reader experience in a way that was unforgettable.

    This post was inspiring. Can’t wait to read more!

  4. says

    Our book children’s picture book, The Elephant’s Song, has a little bear reading each sentence in his character voice and also has various sound effects. We’ve been able to get it published on the iBookstore, but we can’t find an agent or publicist to get behind this version. We have an agent interested in the book. Traditional agents look at me blankly when I talk about our Touch Sound Version. I feel confident this trend will continue but can’t find who’s promoting books that do this.
    Thanks. Suzie


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