What Enhanced E-Books Can Do for Scholarly Authors

The author’s enhanced e-book on King David 
offers features that appeal to scholars and to a general audience. Readers can click on icons to reach primary sources, maps, videos, and publishers’ web pages.
April 21, 2014

For scholars in the humanities, the "enhanced" e-book format is a game changer. Now we can much more easily disseminate our work in art history, archaeology, and many other scholarly fields that have presented high hurdles to print publishing.

A fully enhanced e-book can do the work of two or more traditional print volumes: Authors can address the general reading public and lower-level students in the main body of the text, while treating technical matters for advanced readers in more detail by providing electronic links to extensive pullout or pop-up windows.

Two years ago I hadn’t even heard of enhanced e-books and would never have imagined that I would be the first in my field to produce one. Fortunately Cambridge University Press had already been taking steps in that direction, and it allowed me to try my hand as the press prepared to publish my forthcoming monograph, David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory. The project was inspired by an eagerness on both our parts to use innovative publishing technologies both to communicate more effectively and to keep the costs of academic publishing down.

My book was produced in two forms. One version is in paperback, hardback, and a traditional e-book format, while the other is a fully enhanced version that I produced myself, using Apple’s iBooks Author program, available free on Apple’s Mac App Store. (The Cambridge Press version, which bears a different title, includes three additional chapters on the relationship between David and Caleb.) Everyone agreed that the enhanced version should appear earlier to ensure that it would be given a serious test run. The results and responses have been very rewarding.

In the enhanced e-book version, I reconstruct the history of the biblical text alongside a wide selection of striking images. Without leaving the page, the reader can study the layered history of the text alongside artistic interpretations spanning millennia, along with a bit of contemporary kitsch. The juxtaposition sparks the imagination in new ways.

A traditional print book (along with the conventional e-book versions that replicate them) has two layers: the main body and a thin stratum of footnotes and endnotes. The enhanced e-book can display multiple narratives or voices, each speaking to a different audience. One might compare this innovation to the page layout that Daniel Bomberg adopted in 1523 for Talmud editions—a running source text at the center surrounded by an array of commentaries.

As such, the enhanced e-book can finally solve the endemic problems posed by academics who want to show their colleagues how they arrived at their conclusions but also want to make their work appealing to readers beyond their discipline (the "crossover" book). For publishers, if a book can address two or more readerships, it can be marketed at a more attractive price.

An enhanced e-book also has many advantages for classroom use. People recall information in relation to place and space. In medieval academies, students were encouraged to store knowledge in rooms of imaginary palaces. The principle applies all the more to the ways humans have used texts over the past five millennia, whether the medium be clay, stone, papyrus, parchment, or paper. Most of us can still find a passage in a thick book many years after first reading it because we remember both its approximate place in the volume and its position on the page.

Because our activities of learning are so spatially determined, the shifting pagination of conventional e-books—which reveal your location, for example, as "33% at 1065 of 3236"—can be frustrating, especially when you’re reading nonfiction and wish to consult the volume multiple times. In keeping with our innate need for orientation, one can design each page of an enhanced e-book as a unique folio.

Like the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages, striking images on the page contribute to the impression, making it easier to recall the book’s contents. Scholars and instructors will appreciate that it is much simpler to cite. Reading also becomes more interactive. As authors we can speak to our readers directly in audio or video clips at the ends of chapters. Readers can follow links to articles, books, websites, and videos. They can annotate what they read, highlight lines in a palette of colors, and share them via email and social media. From what I’ve seen, students have been enthusiastic about these interactive features.

In my research as scholar in biblical and Jewish studies, I often need to quote primary sources at length. In print, these quotations take up many pages. Because of space constraints, I would often resort to references, telling readers where to find the text for themselves. But in an enhanced e-book, I can quote lengthy sources in their entirety without requiring extra pages. The sources are reproduced in scrollable windows, which can be found directly on the page or via pop-up icons.

These icons correspond to footnotes and endnotes in traditional print formats. Publishers tend to prefer endnotes, since footnotes intimidate the readers, while many academics prefer footnotes. There’s an easy way around this problem: In my first enhanced e-book, I developed a system of icons corresponding to various kinds of notes, such as primary sources, secondary sources, geography, and video or audio clips. The icons are embedded in the paragraph, and tapping on them brings up the corresponding scrollable window, map, video clip, or other resource.

When I started looking into platforms and programs, I was inundated with options. A number of companies will do the work for you. I realized early on that I wanted to exercise creative control over the entire production process.

I hadn’t worked previously with standard programs like Adobe InDesign or Dreamweaver. In fact, I had never built a basic webpage. But I found that the programs are easy to learn. What’s most important is that one has a good aesthetic sense and pays attention to detail.

Adobe has powerful publishing applications, used to create elaborate magazine layouts. But for my purposes the book needed to work well on Apple’s iPad, which is so widely used in academe. Apple’s iBook application is also available on the operating system for all Apple computers. I therefore decided to create the book using iBooks Author.

The first mock-ups for my e-book were more heavily enhanced. They resembled a magazine in layout, with many embedded videos and audio clips at the end of each chapter. We decided that a more streamlined and cleaner look would be easier on the reader.

I hope that in publishing my iBook, 
I will have succeeded in the spirit of the Renaissance publisher Aldus Manutius. When he began publishing stunning editions of the classics at his Aldine Press, in 1494, he chose as his printer’s device an emblem of a dolphin around an anchor. The emblem communicated the classical adage: Festina lente ("Make haste slowly"). Manutius understood that to be successful, he would have to produce his books expeditiously and inexpensively. Yet for this Venetian printer, each book was also an artistic labor of love, and his promptly produced editions set new aesthetic standards. Not surprisingly, many competitors pirated his printer’s device, and variations of it continue to be used widely today.

For academic publishing, a fully enhanced e-book preserves the Aldine legacy and applies it to 21st-century technology. It ensures that as scholars, we can see our work published quickly, beautifully, and affordably.

Jacob L. Wright is an associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University and author of King David’s Reign Revisited, recently published as an enhanced e-book by the author (Aldina Media). Cambridge University Press will publish a version of the book this spring with the title David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory.