Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Technology for the sake of technology, or do enhanced ebooks really add value?


If you ask a technology leader about the role of innovation in business, the response might go something like this:

  1. Never implement technology for the sake of technology alone.
  2. Only implement technology that adds value to the business.

While it sounds straightforward, the application of technology becomes problematic, particularly in the enhanced ebook space, when there are competing definitions of value. For instance, what happens if your traditional business value (bottom line effect) does not align with what customers value? Particularly when customer value is what drives sales, and therefore, business value?

Publishers are in a tricky place right now. The prolific consumerization of technology means that just about everyone, yes, even your great grandmother, probably knows a little something about the tech world, but that “something” is not the full story. Additionally, consumers who paid $199 at Amazon, $249 at Barnes and Noble, or even $499 at Apple, plus the cost of their books, know they have a device that is capable of really cool, flashy things. And they want to see the return on their investment.

However, for publishers to jump on the technology bandwagon and produce something amazing to the touch, the investment needs to make business sense. The industry is largely being shaped by technology giants who do not live by the same industry rules, and in a never-ending battle to capture the largest share of the market, these companies prioritize competitive advantage over formatting standards. Which means that publishers are the ones who, in the end, have to pay extra to make sure that an enhanced ebook will work on every single device and will be available in each and every e-store. Each device has special quirks that must be catered to, and this costs resources (time, people, money). Publishers need to believe that the book is going to sell to justify the up-front costs of making it flashy. Not every book can do that. It has to make sense/cents, and it has to be done right.

Now let’s talk about consumer value. I was on my Nook the other day and out of curiosity, I started browsing the enhanced ebook section. Most of the enhanced ebooks available right now are priced a little higher than standard, and come with an extra video clip or audio that you can listen to. Though I haven’t purchased any to try, I’m not sure that this application adds all that much value as a reader. Judging from a few of the reviews on the B&N site, I’m not sure other people believe it either. Amid discussions about the merits of the book itself, you’ll also find people complaining that the video doesn’t play right, or that the price is too much. I’m not sure it’s enough to have an extra layer of media tacked onto the book, though this seems to be the trend with celebrity memoirs right now.

But here’s the thing. Ultimately, if consumers do not believe an enhanced edition adds value and is worth the deluxe price, they will write negative reviews. Negative reviews will encourage other readers to skip the enhanced version, and perhaps purchase the regular instead. Then you’re stuck with technology for the sake of technology. Done right, it’s a whole different story.

As these color tablets hit the market soon, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more and more enhanced ebooks emerge to take advantage of the color and multimedia capabilities. I also think as more standards unfold, it will be a lot easier to bridge the gap between expectations of value. But for now, I think it’s important to be patient and remember that just because something can be enhanced doesn’t always mean it should. Technology for the sake of technology is never a good idea.

2 comments on “Technology for the sake of technology, or do enhanced ebooks really add value?

  1. Claire Schulz
    November 13, 2011

    I think you’re absolutely right, Erica. We’re still in this weird stage where some people get what enhanced ebooks should be, and others… well… others are still at Tina Fey stage. I’m excited to see where the future takes us, though, and I’m waiting for an enhanced cookbook with more than just a few recipe videos thrown in. THEN I might buy a Nook. Till then, I like my paper cookbooks, now “enhanced” with dogeared pages and butter stains.

  2. Leah Thompson
    November 13, 2011

    Agreed, Erica– great post! I think the publishing industry only has a hazy view of how people actually use (or would use) ebooks. In order to create something that makes both sense and cents, we need to have a better understanding of what is worthwhile for users.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on November 13, 2011 by in Business, Opinion, Technology and tagged , , .

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