Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Special Features in Books

One of the oft-used description nowadays by people is “special features like DVDs” even if bonus or additional features aren’t a new idea. But the important point I think is that it gets the point across. When I say DVD special features that are included in another medium, people immediately understand that they’re getting something else aside from the product itself. Audio CDs for example might include a sticker and a music video included in the package. Books are another age-old commodity that has benefited from special features: leather-bound covers, superior binding, premium paper, the inclusion of bookmarks, etc. That, however, got me thinking: is there another way of giving additional value to books? If you were to package a “collector’s edition” of a particular novel, what would you include in it aside from what’s previously been done?

Comics, for example, is one product that I think has evolved and innovated itself in the past few years. More than just the concept of a “graphic novel” or hardcover collection, they’ve also come up with oversized hardcovers that not only sport larger-than-usual pages of comics but include comic scripts, writer/artist interviews, concept art, or even alternate covers. Manga nowadays will even be sporting a new look with omnibus editions and color treatment in what is normally a black-and-white medium (the latter actually isn’t anything new but it’s nice seeing them in the US market). Which begs the question, if it can be done for comics, can something similar be accomplished when it comes to books?

One problem I have with publishers is that many books out in the market right now are simple repackaging rather than true special editions: a different cover, a different book design, different paper, different size, or at most a different foreword or introduction. It’s only the form that changes but the content remains the same. The alternative treatment is what is done to classics: we get study guides, literary interpretations, or even guide questions at the end of the book. Not that those are a bad thing—I particularly appreciate the footnotes and annotations when reading Shakespeare (because his English is far from modern) for example—but it kind of limits the special features to what is educational as opposed to what is fun (not that the two can’t overlap). And isn’t that why we purchase DVDs? Because of the sheer excitement of discovering and playing with the bonus material that’s included?

A few years ago, Wizards of the Coast released The Annotated Dragonlance Chronicles and The Annotated Dragonlance Legends. Now it’s not the first time they re-released both trilogies nor will it be the last time. But aside from compiling the novels into one book, giving it a hardcover treatment and a new cover art, they also added comments from the authors (which I liked) and from the publishing department (which I didn’t like because it was simply plugging the other books published but I imagine some people who’ll find value in this). It’s a step in the right direction but I similarly think more could have been done: Larry Elmore sketches, Kender recipes, or perhaps even D&D game stats. Now these elements aren’t new but part of other publications or products (Leaves from the Last Inn for example has recipes) or even part of the regular releases (My The Second Generation book for example has an actual musical score of The Song of Huma). Why not gather all those extra material and combine them into a special edition book, giving readers the equivalent of the special features of a DVD?

While that’s the case with Dragonlance, it gets more trickier with more mundane novels or even the classics. Annotations can only take you so far for example in a classic like Alice in Wonderland. And despite our advancements in medicine, we can’t resurrect the dead simply to have them write comments about their book (if we’re just going to resurrect dead authors, we might as well have them complete unfinished works like Kafka). But what about a book like Harry Potter? Is there anything additional that can be included that’ll give it additional value to fans and make them buy the books again for this bonus material?

Perhaps if we move beyond the medium of print, we can provide consumers with some extra material beyond the actual text. Perhaps an audio CD is included that has the author or a skilled performer recite certain lines or scenes from the book. Another alternative especially when it comes to books that have been re-released several times is to have a CD full of images showing the various book covers over the years (or even the foreign covers). The product hasn’t been released yet but when it comes to D&D 4th Edition, it’s being touted that when you buy the book, there’s a code in it in which you can input at the website so you can download an electronic version of the book, which I find useful because eBooks usually allow you to search for certain words of phrases instead of poring through several pages just to find a specific quote.

I think a more important question however is whether there’s an actual demand for such books. Are bibliophiles willing to shell out cash for a premium edition book with special features? Or better yet, what special features will entice you to patronize such a product, especially if you already down a copy of the book at home?


Anonymous said...

for collectible popular books like harry potter, they could probably reissue the books with new illustrations done by big-name artists? my copy of the sword of shannara comes with a lot of neat B&W illustrations by the hildebrandt brothers, plus a color pullout in the middle. if i were really a collector, i would've gotten that even if i'd gotten the all-text version first.

arguably HP is already a classic, by virtue of sales volume alone.

Thyalla said...

One of the things i like about Piers Anthony's novels is how he always writes some afternotes of sorts at the end of each book. He discusses the things that was going through his mind, or the things that helped influence him during the writing of the novel - and this is something that is very interesting for me.

For HP, for example, they can probably release limited edition versions that are patterned after the original manuscripts from Rowling herself, even adding her side scribbles (if she had any) ^^ That was what Tolkien's son did with the Unfinished Tales series (albeit he refined the scribbles co'z Tolkien was a notorious editor of his own work) - and the series went all the way to book 5, if I remember correctly.

There's also news of Rowling releasing a book that will have all the little things she couldn't fit in the series. Maybe some tidbits from that would be nice to include as footnotes or whatnot in the HP series?