A Selection of Fascinating E-book Innovations From the Past Year


For all the continued hand-wringing about the end of books, there’s equal (if slightly more tentative) excitement about the realm of e-books and all the nebulous possibilities therein. We’ve noticed a recent distinct uptick in announcements about innovations and new initiatives in the last few weeks and months, so we’ve collected a few of the ones that most interest us here. Check them out after the jump, and let us know which other e-reader developments have got your interest piqued in the comments.

Faber and Faber’s Digital Version of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps

As it stands, most e-books are simply digital texts, without too many bells and whistles. But Faber and Faber is going much farther with its interactive, visual version of John Buchan’s classic The Thirty-Nine Steps. The app, constructed by The Story Mechanics, will engage readers by allowing them to “unlock dozens of achievements and items to collect on their reading journey, and explore hundreds of hand-painted digital environments and context from 1910s Britain.” Henry Volans, head of Faber Digital, explained, “The Story Mechanics have come up with something completely new in the landscape of fiction ebooks. It’s a new way of reading with John Buchan’s story at its heart, presented afresh through a TV and gaming-inspired lens… Too often publishers ask themselves how they can bolt something on to a finished novel, like retro-fitting a car. This is posing a much more profound challenge: it’s a novel in conceived form written on bespoke software.” The novel as video game — likely to get more people to read, at least.

E-book lending in libraries

The question of how e-books will work with libraries hasn’t quite been worked out, and the slightly arbitrary deals that have been worked out are not likely to work in the long term: HarperCollins lets libraries lend their e-books 26 times before they have to purchase a new version (though the old one has not depreciated); Random House charges libraries something like thrice the normal retail price to purchase e-books. But this week, Simon & Schuster announced a one-year pilot program with NYC public libraries, allowing them full access to the entire catalog, with no restrictions on use — though e-books can only be checked out to one patron at a time. Bundled with the borrowed e-book comes an offer to buy the book in question, and if borrowers take the publisher up on it, the libraries will get a two percent cut of the profits. “This is a path breaking step that will ensure that as ebook readership grows our citizens can enjoy access to books akin to what the library has always provided,” New York Public Library President Tony Marx said.

E-books by subscription

At this point, almost all types of consumable media — film, television, video games, music, and of course newspapers and magazines — are going the way of the subscription model. Now, thanks to Tim Waterstone, founder of the UK bookstore Waterstones, books may join the ranks. This week, Waterstone announced Read Petite, a “subscription streaming service for short fiction” set to launch this fall. Like any good subscription-based service, Read Petite will provide unlimited access to a library of e-books for a single monthly price. Could this be the way of the future for voracious readers? We’ll find out.

Shuffle, by Chris Rickaby

Chris Rickaby won a 2013 Publishing Innovation Award for his “e-novel” Shuffle, a series of seven stories, each with its own song, that you can “shuffle” as you would on an iPod and read in any order. The stories, too, are thematically linked, centering on concepts of “probability and chance.” As the author explains, “What Shuffle gives the reader the opportunity to do is to make choices and take chances themselves as they negotiate the fiction and the narrative.”

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure E-books

You never thought your books would judge you, but you were wrong. Bioethicist Dr. David Perlman’s thriller The Organ Farm asks the reader to make ethical choices at various points in the narrative (much like a choose-your-own-adventure book), allowing them to influence to book’s ending. Hey, it worked on us with Goosebumps.

The Silent History

The Silent History is more properly described as an app than an e-book, but it is definitely an innovative form of storytelling that has serious potential. A serial novel/treasure hunt, The Silent History tells a dystopian story that is supplemented by Field Reports, which can only be accessed from certain locations — 13 in Los Angeles, 29 in New York City, 25 in Australia, and one in Antarctica. Usually, we don’t like any bells and whistles with our books, but this is a little like reading and a little like Myst — so we have to admit we’re intrigued.