Enhanced eBooks: Great for Audience Engagement, Bad for Communicating Information?

Posted on June 3, 2012

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A recent study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (the research arm of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street) found that enhanced eBooks can be detrimental to children’s literacy as opposed to basic eBooks.

The PDF report found that both parents and children are likely to engage in enhanced eBook features, defined as multimedia and interactive features and exemplified by apps like Scholastic Storia and subscription sites like Ruckus Reader. However, children retained fewer narrative details when engaging with these features, which means they gained fewer literacy skills overall.

(Full disclosure: I used to work for Sesame Workshop and am a fan of their research on content effectiveness. I have also touted the creativity of Ruckus Reader in recent talks at Subscription Site Insider and SIPA conferences.)

This is an interesting finding that can be applied to grown-up content as well (just think of how many adults you know with the attention span of a 5-year-old). But the findings have the dual possibility of either causing strife between your marketing and editorial departments or leading to better content and more revenues for your company as a whole.

Basically, the findings suggest that if you want to communicate a message effectively, enhanced multimedia features should reinforce that message, not distract from it. Sesame Workshop found this in similar studies on its musical segments, where educational messages that were embedded into the chorus section of a song were better retained by children than educational messages outside the chorus.

Enhanced eBook features that do not relate to editorial content can provide fun and amusement, and thereby increase revenues. But for paid content sites that rely on editorial integrity, this tactic would be short-sighted. (Penny-wise and pound-foolish, as my mother would say.) Better to make sure all your multimedia features are reinforcing the messages your content creators are trying to convey. That way, your audience will come to rely on all your multimedia offerings as valuable content, and will be more likely to pay a premium price