A Simple Guide to Creating Interactive Ebooks (With Examples and How-To’s)
April 18, 2017 | Robbie Richards
Ebooks have come a long way since the Kindle was first introduced ten years ago. Back then, an ebook was simply an electronic version of its printed counterpart you could view on an e-reader or computer. Today, even non-publishers have the ability to easily craft PDF-style ebooks and post them to their website.
And, there in lies the problem:
Ebooks are so easy to create, everyone is doing it. And, they pretty much all look the same – boring, poorly designed static assets that end up in the trash 5 seconds after you open it.
Despite this, ebooks are still one of the top preferred content marketing mediums by B2B marketers in 2017:
This sustained popularity means static ebooks are only going to become more saturated, and readers more numb to them. As a result, modern marketers need to find a better way to use these long-form assets to engage and educate readers.
Enter interactive ebooks.
Most effective at the top and middle of the sales funnel:
These assets capture and retain reader attention much longer than their static counterparts:
While interactive ebooks can provide a competitive advantage for content marketers, many teams make the mistake of developing them with the same approach and mindset as a traditional static PDF. This results in a boring end-product that fails to leverage the storytelling capabilities an interactive ebook can provide.
In this guide I’ll illustrate everything you need to know about interactive ebooks, including:
- What is an interactive ebook
- Why you should include interactive ebooks in your marketing mix
- Interactive ebook examples
- How to create an interactive ebook
- Important Do’s and Don’ts of interactive ebook design
Let’s get started.
What is an interactive ebook?
Moving beyond static pages and passive involvement, interactive ebooks take advantage of touch screen capabilities to engage more than just the eyes.
This type of ebook is no longer just text on a page; rather, an interactive ebook offers a sensory experience driven not only in word, but in sight and sound as well.
A great working definition would be “ebook content that changes based on how you engage with it”.
Interactions within an ebook can take a variety of forms:
- Quizzes & knowledge tests
- Interactive infographic
These elements allow publishers to create an immersive experience for readers that extends far beyond clicks.
Interactive ebooks can be used to target any range of topics, such as children’s books, travel guides, cookbooks, and educational material. The use cases are endless.
We’ll look at some specific examples in a moment, but first…
Why bother creating interactive ebooks?
Content marketers are adept at publishing blog posts and other forms of one-way media. Creating interactive content is more work. It typically demands more resources.
So, is it worth the extra effort?
There is a reason 3 in 4 marketers increased investment in interactive content last year:
Interactive ebooks allow you to step away from a passive one-way viewing experience, and into a two-way monolgue that engages the reader and allows publishers to generate leads and conversions directly within the content:
Here are a few other reasons marketers are shifting from static to interactive ebook content:
- 93% of marketers realized that deploying interactive content has been beneficial in educating prospects
- 88% of marketers claim that interactive content has given them a competitive advantage
- 81% of marketers believe that interactive content catches the reader’s attention
- 79% of markers think that interactive content boosts brand reputation
- Engaging more than one sense at a time can lead to higher retention and ROI
Interactive content isn’t new. People have been taking online quizzes and sharing videos on social media for years. But the practice of developing interactive content specifically for an ebook format is still a largely untapped channel for most marketers.
But, where there is little noise there is opportunity 🙂
Examples of Interactive Ebooks
There is no generic formula as to how an interactive ebook is supposed to look and function. As mentioned earlier, the use cases are as varied as the people reading or creating them.
Let’s take a look at a few stellar examples from companies who are doing it right:
The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins
Renowned scientist Richard Dawkins lets readers get up close and personal with science experiments in his interactive ebook. Users can participate in games and demonstrations, such as simulating the effects of heat or gravity.
Do or Die by Clark Kokich
This is the first fully interactive business-related ebook ever published. Within the app, readers can follow links to video interviews, view case studies of high profile brands like Nike and Virgin America, commenting on the content while discovering what other readers have to say.
Our Choice by Al Gore
A combination of interactive infographics, animations, documentary videos, and images comprise the interactivity options that drive value factors for the reader.
The Zappos Experience by Joseph Michelli
Also available in print, the interactive ebook versions offers 17 QR codes throughout the text that lead to related digital content, including an epic Nerf battle at the Zappos headquarters.
This interactive cookbook from Look&Cook delivers step-by-step instructions on your tablet, along with voice command instructions, integrated timeers, video tutorials, and a send-by-email shopping list for 51 master chef recipes (including 7 vegan recipes).
Paris: DK Eyewitness
This educational travel guide is about as good as seeing Paris up close and personal. The interactive ebook offers cutaways of buildings that lets users zoom in and explore, as well as offline maps and recommendations for nearby sightseeing.
Sherlock: Interactive Adventure
Available as an app download, the famous Sherlock Holmes comes to life in 3D animated images that pull the reader into the storyline as if you were Dr. Watson himself.
Meet the Insects: Water and Grass Edition
This educational children’s book app allows the user to touch the insects they want to learn more about. Simple animations direct the reader to various parts of the book, allowing them to hear narration, view videos, image galleries, quizzes and games, and even includes an interactive journal they can write in or read.
How to Create an Interactive Ebook
Each of the above examples uses interactive features in different ways, depending on the target audience, content, and purpose.
How do you go about creating an interactive ebook? Where do you even start?
The following section provides a step-by-step framework you can follow to get the ball rolling.
Before you go to the drawing board (or screen, in this case), it’s important to understand exactly what you are doing, and why you are doing it.
As we saw above, there are a lot of statistics to support the effectiveness of interactive content. But, how will an interactive ebook benefit your business?
First, ask yourself what you hope to get out of your interactive ebook:
- Better brand positioning?
- Increased lead generation?
- Better lead qualification?
- Higher social engagement?
Interactive ebooks can be used to accomplish any of those goals at the top and middle of the funnel.
Finally, ask yourself:
- Who will engage with your interactive ebook?
- What types of content should be included?
- What type of interactive elements will support storytelling at each phase in the book?
- How will the asset fit into, and be promoted, within your content marketing mix?
You may decide to take a look at your existing content arsenal and see if you can repurpose something. Once you have a clear idea on the who and what, you need to plan how to publish and deliver the final product. Here you have a few common options:
- Web app – Users can click through the interactive content on your website.
- Mobile app – Users download the interactive ebook from the app store.
- Desktop app – Users download it directly to their computer, no special reading software required.
- EPUB File – The file is published to popular ebook stores, like B&N Nook or Amazon Kindle.
Always keep budget in mind, and consider how you’d like to be able to edit the content once it is published. Each use case will have it’s own separate set of requirements.
There were a lot of things to consider there, but answering the questions listed above will help make the next step a lot easier.
Once the resources and strategy are in place, the next step to outline the user journey.
If you are starting from scratch:
- Pick a subject and develop the creative strategy first.
- Develop an outline for the content flow.
- Think about which visuals and audio will best support your content.
- Start developing visual and audio interactions in tandem with the copy.
If you have a hardcopy book you want to transform:
- Convert your book into PDF form. You can partner with companies like 1dollarscan to receive a PDF version of your content.
- Create an outline of your text, and determine what else you want your readers to know. This can help guide you in creating additional features and information they can interact with.
Once you’ve got a rough outline or scanned copy, consider how you can take your text elements and transform them into actions. You may discover your interactive content goes several layers deep within each page. It’s helpful to create a content map outlining the path of each action.
It’s also helpful to draft a sample chapter you can use as a blueprint for creating subsequent chapters. The sample should represent how you want each portion of your ebook to look and function, and should include its own content map for reference.
As you craft your ebook content, consider how well each point can stand alone without needing other information in the ebook to help the reader make sense of it all.
Stocking Your Ebook Toolbox
You might find some of these tools helpful during the creation phase:
You can purchase and download interactive ebook widgets from BookWidgets. Although these widgets are specifically designed for use in iBooks Author, you can use them in other ebook creating programs if the programs support them. Users can click on the widget in your interactive ebook and view your quiz, puzzle or other content in a pop-up window.
Just like BookWidget, you can download interactive ebook widgets with Bookry. These widgets offer features like games, quizzes, puzzles, and interactive drawing.
Stock Photo Sites
You can find a variety of super cheap or royalty-free images on the following websites:
- Life of Pix
- Dreamstime (photos for as little as $1)
- Depositphotos (photos for as little as $1)
Visual Design Tools
Don’t have a big budget? No worries. You can find quality free design tools online:
Canva helps you create infographics or enhanced images for free. You can also purchase high-quality images for as little as $0.99 each.
For photo editing and image creation, Sumopaint is the free online twin of Adobe Photoshop. [screenshot]
You might choose to have a professional narrate your ebook. Sites like Fiverr, Guru and Upwork can help connect you to affordable voice pros.
Audioblocks offers a huge variety of sound effects, music loops, and full-length tracks. You pay a fee of $99 per year, and can keep all the music you download, even if you cancel the membership.
4 Traps You Need to Avoid
While interactive content provides an endless number of ways to better engage and capture the attention of readers, we continue to see marketers making the same mistake over and over again.
They approach interactive ebooks they same way as static PDFs.
Don’t. Do. This.
Below, we’ll cover four common traps marketers fall into when creating their first interactive ebooks, and explain how to avoid them. Avoid
#1. Prioritizing text over content
Interactive ebooks offer so many more ways to engage (and convert) readers than traditional PDFs. Think of text as a supplement to the interactive content. Your words should be kept to a minimum while letting visual and auditory content do most of the talking.
Some experts suggest keeping the ebook copy shorter than a typical blog post – around 800 words or less.
Use rich images and audio to condense complex concepts.
#2. Forgeting the call-to-action
Like any piece of content, your interactive ebook should provide a clear next step to help guide readers further into the funnel. The type of CTA you use will depend on which stage in the funnel your content targets.
Top funnel: Direct readers to a related blog post that explores the topic from a different angle.
Middle funnel: Invite readers to explore and interact with your product to better evaluate it as a solution to their problem.
Bottom funnel: Direct readers to a spec sheet, case study or free trial sign up page to drive purchase behavior.
You may want to consider placing a variety of CTAs throughout the ebook and A/B test them to see which ones convert better. Experiment with positioning, triggers, messaging and design elements to find a winning combination.
#3. Stop thinking in PDF-mode
Ebooks, whitepapers, checklists and other PDF documents have been a cornerstone of the marketing mix since the 1990s. For most of us, they are familiar and relatively simple to create. A comfort zone that comes major limitations.
While PDFs have been used to bring books, magazines and other ofline assets into the digital world, they provide a very linear reading exprience. It looks and feel like a textbook – intro, table of contents, some pretty images and links out to external content on third party platforms.
While this structure works ok offline, it does not translate very well online.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking about your interactive ebook in the context of a traditional PDF. You’ll end up with a “me-too” one-way reading experience.
Instead, think of it as a blank canvas. Your imagination is the limit. Utilize images, videos, audio, interactive data and animations to tell an engaging story. Traditional plain text should only be used to support the visual elements. If readers want to drill deeper into specific topics, enable it through interaction, not walls of static content.
Which brings me to the next point…
#4. Visuals are NOT an afterthought
Creating a traditional static PDF is a pretty straight-forward process:
1. Brainstorm some topics
2. Research the subject
3. Put together a draft
4. Add image to support the text
5. Proof and publish
I bolded point #4 for a reason.
When creating interactive ebooks, a lot of marketers make the mistake of thinking about the visual assets late in the process.
Creating interactive content does not work this way. Instead of thinking of visuals as a contextual add-on, you need to make them a centerpiece.
Start with a visual concept for your topic, and add text to support. The key here is to ensure visuals are not an afterthought.
Ready to Create Your First Interactive Ebook?
While ebooks are still a critical component of the B2B marketing mix, they have become saturated. In a world where readers are drowning in content, and our attention spans are getting shorter, marketers are looking for new channels and content types to cut through the noise. Therefore, it’s not surprising more than 75% of marketers are investing more in interactive content. And, ebooks are a big part of that mix.
While interactive ebooks follow similar overarching principles to the traditional PDF, there are differences. But, don’t let those deter you from making the leap into the visual world of interactive content. Follow the guide above, avoid the common pitfalls, and you’ll open a whole new world of creativity that will have you engaging, qualifying and converting more readers 🙂