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Getting creative wth eBooks

Kevin Gillis, CEO, Skyreader Media on creating content for interactive eBooks

As we begin to create for the new interactive eBook platform, producers are searching for new ways to use today’s technology. Initial approaches have been to reinvent long-proven traditional content – whether it’s public domain material or books that have existed in the traditional print medium. We believe the next generational shift in content for successful eBooks will be to create content straight from the dropping of the needle, content made specifically for this new appliance.

Just as the advent of television as a medium for storytelling opened up a new world of creative possibilities that did not exist for radio, interactive eBooks will now change the way writers share their stories with readers on the new electronic page.

In the early days of television, producers took radio dramas and comedies and made them into television dramas simply by adding video. Whether they realised it or not (or cared), the viewing audience had lost an important role in the storytelling process – the role of recreating the fantasy in their own minds. Viewers could now see the Ponderosa Valley where cowboys rode on horseback. They no longer had to process spoken words and sound effects into their own images. But the trade off was a much broader, more detailed visual experience for the viewer, albeit, one that was controlled by the producer.

This raises an interesting point. When you read words, you become a collaborator in the creative process by creating the imagery in your own mind. How will enhancements enabled by interactive eBooks affect the fantasies you are able to conjure? If producers of interactive eBooks merely add more bells and whistles to take advantage of the new technology, the readers, just like the listeners, not only lose a part of their role in creating the fantasy, they can also become distracted from the story itself.

It is critical to retain the fantasy and creative experience so a child or parent will remain involved and engaged in the story; at the same time we expose them to a greater reading experience through the emerging technology. At the end of the day, it’s still a book. It still requires basic literacy skills and offers all the benefits of what reading allows you to do. This has been a fundamental part of the human storytelling tradition since the early days of papyrus and codex.

For interactive eBook producers, optimising the storytelling experience without detracting from it requires a unique approach to each book. Producers must determine what the attractive experience will be. What are the intuitive elements in the book the child will want to interact with, to hear, to see, to touch, to share or to engage with?

Look at a story of a dragon and a knight. Could we help define a dragon by taking the reader to Pictionary to show them what a dragon is, or how dragons have been depicted by different illustrators? Or make it sound a certain way when you touch it? Or be able to see his fiery breath in full motion? Whatever the choices that are offered to the reader, the enhancements should be part of the storytelling process that were originally intended.

However, as we move forward with creating native content for this new appliance, we will not be governed by the same rules. Limited only by their imaginations, producers can harness the technology to take a reader off the constraints of pages – as part of the story.

A story set on the planet Earth can move the reader into space and trigger them back by utilising the tactile tools, sounds, portals and other features intrinsic to the tablet platform. The difference is that it will be part of the story as it is originally written and as such will be organic to the reading process.

As tablet technology progresses, so will the creative technology for the platform, giving us newer and ever more amazing tools to tell our stories. It will fall upon the teams of writers, code writers, animators, engineers and illustrators to create new epic tales for children around the world. The genre will yield its own classics, as have movies and print books.

We’re still in the early stages of creating for this new appliance and should continue our storytelling without resorting to gimmicks or clutter that can detract from what makes a good story. Going forward, as the medium develops, we will no longer be limited to pages, pictures and words. The tablet will engage more of our senses, thereby allowing writers to expand their reach into our minds, and putting new worlds within reach of our cursor and our fingertips.