So what is an Interactive Book? As a reader, do you even care?


This is perhaps one of the most debated topics in recent times; among publishers and readers that is. In fact there’s a growing concern that both these tribes; Readers and Publishers are declining, but recent stats seem to prove that humanity today reads voraciously than ever before.

So does the “Book” really need “interactivity”? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right?

This is how we felt when we worked on our first “Book App” in 2009…..well they were still called Apps back then. The SAS Survival Guide was launched in March 2010 and went on to become a smash hit. Our use case was fairly simple enough, the SAS Survival Guide, a million copy selling book was perfect to carry with you on your iPhone, because you never know when you might need it and it could potentially save your or someone else’s life. That was it. We didn’t think we should make the book “interactive”. So why not just publish it as an eBook right? Why go through the hassle of “appifying” this book? Oh by the way, building an App is a huge hassle, until now ;). So we took a look at what an ebook version would look like.

The results were surprisingly unspectacular! We concluded that ebooks just didn’t work. The paperback was far superior.

Before you jump to any conclusions here, let’s clarify that statement: We concluded that ebooks just don’t work; for certain types of books only. They work great for fiction.

That single experiment resulted in 2 years of research and development and some fantastic apps. And according to us the good old dead tree books worked just fine for non-linear content, it was just that ebooks were broken when dealing with books like How-to books, Cookbooks, Guides…and the list goes on.

So lets delve a bit deeper into what aspects worked well on paper books and why they sucked on ebooks. What we came away with was just one thing: Browseability. Paper books are a lot better than ebooks when it comes to browsing. Have you ever tried ‘flipping’ through an ebook? And for books that are non-linear, that’s how people read. For example, you don’t read a cookbook from cover to cover. So how do you read these books.

  1. You flip through and stop when you see something interesting
  2. You look at the table of contents and jump to a section
  3. You look at the index to “discover” something interesting

It’s a lot of back and forth, a lot like surfing the internet right? These are the aspects at which traditional ebooks seem to be failing today. There’s ePub3 you might say, but that’s going to be another long blog post.

Lets stick with defining “interactivity” in the context of a book.

The dictionary definition of interactivity says this:


adjective /ˌintərˈaktiv/

  1. (of a computer or other electronic device) Allowing a two-way flow of information between it and a user, responding to the user’s input

But you will notice that when ever we read about enhanced ebooks, Book apps and the arguments for or against “enhancing” the content, people generally stick with the bells and whistles: video, audio, animation etc.

This is NOT interactivity. There is no two-way flow of information when you see a video slapped onto some text, or hear background ambient noises when reading or watching the leaves fall off a tree when you shake your iPad.

True interactivity in the context of a digital book is when the idea the author is hoping to express through the content is effectively communicated when responding to the user’s input.

This we believe is far more challenging to do than video, audio and all the razzmatazz. Today there are some tools that can help you with the “bells and whistles” of interactive books. But what is really required and what is really appreciated by readers is interactivity that matters, interactivity that helps them understand, interactivity that helps dialog, between the author and fellow readers.

Papertrell is at the forefront of solving these problems. Don’t believe our word for it, look at what our app users have to say. The proof is in the pudding reviews.