Publishers and authors use the term “enhanced” to describe eBooks that include interesting features like embedded media, interactivity, narration, and more.
Because of inconsistent progress in eBook device features over the last few years, some eBook enhancements are limited to specific eBook devices and apps.
Here is what we will cover below:
Before we dive in, it might be helpful to clear up some misconceptions about enhanced eBooks. Some other eBook companies and publishers might define an “enhancement” differently than we do. For example, we have heard many times that end notes that link both directions or linked subject indexes are enhancements to eBooks. At eBook Architects, we do not consider those to be “enhancements” because we see them as integral to the very concept of an eBook. Embedded fonts are also not enhancements. While they are not always necessary, embedding specific fonts into an eBook assists with the overall design of an eBook and ensures a good reading experience on complex titles.
eBooks should not just be flat digital versions of print books. Basic features like linking within an eBook, linking to outside resources, and implementing good design are foundational elements of every eBook. We believe that those elements should be included in every file, and that is what we do.
Enhancements are extras that make an eBook more interesting, informative, or interactive. They are also a way to add new content or functionality that would not be possible in the print book.
Embedded audio and video is probably the most common eBook enhancement being used today. If you have media content that is connected to the content of your book, it may be possible to embed it in your eBook files for readers to access. However, you should be aware that embedded media is currently not supported in every reading system. Let’s look at each system independently.
Apple, Kobo, and Google have the best support for embedded media. Whether you are creating a reflowable EPUB or fixed layout EPUB these reading systems will allow the media file to be embedded into the EPUB for easy access by the reader. Here is an example of how video and audio look in a standard reflowable eBook in the iBooks platform:
Barnes & Noble’s support for embedded media is limited to the NOOK tablet apps and is also limited to publishers who have a direct relationship with B&N or who are using a distributor. The NOOK Press system does not currently support embedded media.
Amazon’s support for embedded media is very limited. It only works when embedded in the old Mobipocket 7 format, not in the new Kindle Format 8, and it is only supported in the Kindle iOS App and in 2nd Generation or later Kindle Fire devices. It does not currently work in the 1st Generation Kindle Fire or the E Ink Kindle devices. As with B&N, you need to have a publisher account with Amazon or go through a distributor who can handle the uploading of enhanced files. The lack of support for KF8 formatting will limit how nice your eBook will look.
Our recommendations: When you are thinking about embedding audio or video, we recommend you consider how that content will impact the overall message of the eBook. The limitations on where you can sell eBooks with embedded media, as well as the limitations on which devices support them, may mean fewer sales than an eBook without embedded media. Also, the file size of your final eBook with embedded media will typically be very large, which may cause issues for some readers who do not want to download a large eBook file. We often recommend placing the media files on your website instead of inside the eBook itself. In addition to removing the sales limitations placed on enhanced eBooks, links to the media within your eBook allow anyone with a tablet or computer to access the media in their web browser. This option will also give you extra opportunities to connect with your readers when they visit your website.
When you create links within your eBook file to your own website it is usually a good idea to make those links fairly short so that a reader who needs to type the link into their computer does not have to type in a long URL. There are a lot of ways to do that, but one way is to use a URL shortening service like bit.ly or tinyurl.com. These services work well in many cases, but there are some limitations to their use. You can also create your own short URL service on your own website, which gives you the option to adjust the destination of those shortened links in the future if something on your website changes. This is also a good option for other links in your eBook, like links to resources or other websites that you may go down from time to time. See this tutorial on Lifehacker for information about setting up a URL shortening service on your own server.
If you have audio narration available for a children’s eBook, that narration can be added as a media overlay both in the EPUB 3 and NOOK Kids formats, allowing readers to have the eBook read to them as they follow along. In the EPUB 3 format, a marker is placed in the code around every word in the book and that marker is tied to start and end time stamps, allowing the reading system to play the specific portion of the audio file while highlighting or changing the font color of the word for the reader. Here is a screenshot from iBooks showing the word being read by the narrator colored red, with the Read Aloud controls visible.
Animation in eBooks can be tricky to create. These are not the kinds of animations you would expect to see in a TV show (3D CGI type or stop motion); those types of animations are intended for video production, not eBooks. eBook animations are 2D cutout-style animations.
The artwork in a children’s eBook needs to be created with the animations in mind. Each element on the page needs to be drawn in its own layer so that it can be manipulated and moved without affecting the design of the page. Let’s take for example this animation from Saving Energy with Lil’G.
Yes! It’s Friday!
This image has three layers: the background, Sam (the boy on the skateboard), and the text bubble. Sam and the text bubble are created on transparent backgrounds, indicated by the gray checkerbox pattern in the image below, so that they can be moved on the screen without affecting the background image:
If you drew this scene on one layer and tried to cut Sam and the text bubble out of the image to make them move, you would end up with a background like this:
One of the main features of the iBooks Author platform is the ability to create custom interactive widgets that add new functionality to your eBook files. The iBooks Author program comes with a few simple widgets built in, including a photo gallery and a quiz-taking widget. These are useful in a variety of book types, and automatically add more functionality than you get with standard fixed layout eBooks.
To more easily to understand which reading systems support which features, please see the following chart:
|Format||EPUB 3||KF8||NOOK Kids||EPUB 3||EPUB 3|
|Narration Text Highlighting|
Page last updated: 4/28/2016