Enhanced Ebooks…Wave of the Future or Wave Goodbye?

Enhanced ebooks are a new variation on the ebook technology. Essentially, an “enhanced ebook” is an electronic or digital version of a book with additional content not found in printed versions. Enhanced “additional content” may include audio and video clips, web links, and pop-up and other interactive materials.

Although many publishers produce standard ebooks in-house, few currently produce enhanced ebooks as well. The primary producers of enhanced ebooks tend to be independent houses which focus on this new technology. Most books are not currently made into enhanced ebooks, but publishers have started including these rights in contracts. Given the tech-intensive nature of enhanced ebooks, most publishers will probably sublicense the rights moving forward.

Of the contracts I’ve seen so far this year, approximately 70% have mentioned enhanced ebooks in some way. The inclusion of enhanced ebook rights, separately from ebooks, probably represents legal departments’ recognition that the two may are not the same. Moving forward, authors should make sure that contracts include a specific reference to (and disposition of) enhanced ebook rights.

From the author’s perspective, enhanced ebook rights are probably most analogous to audiobooks (but far less prevalent). While the author could license enhanced ebook rights separately, these rights are not currently exploited much in the market. Whether or not to grant the enhanced ebook rights to the publisher is a business decision authors must make.

Right now, when the rights have little practical value for most authors, it may make sense to let the publisher have them. But we don’t know where enhanced ebooks may go in the future, so some authors may want to keep the rights. The danger in letting the publisher have the rights, of course, is that if the technology takes off, authors may regret the decision.

If you choose to let your publisher have the enhanced ebook rights as well as the standard ebook, make sure the royalties are at least as high (or higher) than standard ebook. Also, ask for approval rights on the enhanced ebook content – you want to see and approve what someone is adding to your work.

The choice is yours, but don’t simply give away enhanced ebook rights without considering the implications. It’s still too early to tell whether enhanced ebooks are a fad or a viable part of the digital book market.

Make no mistake: I’m not advocating granting enhanced ebook rights to the publisher–or losing a deal by refusing them. Consider all aspects of the offer. Ultimately, authors need to consider enhanced ebooks the same way they would consider any other subsidiary right: evaluate the offer you’re given.

One difficulty with new technologies is the inability to know, for certain, whether they will fly or fizzle. Until we know where enhanced ebooks are headed, authors need to exercise caution, and consider their options carefully.

It’s always hard to be told that no one can give you the right answer – but the reality is that only you can manage your writing career, including the cutting-edge portions like enhanced ebook rights.

Have questions about this or other publishing legal topics? Feel free to ask in the comments or email me (there’s a “contact” link here on the website). I love to hear from readers and authors!