Vooks are coming

ebook devicesNew York Times: For more than 500 years the book has been a remarkably stable entity: a coherent string of connected words, printed on paper and bound between covers.

But in the age of the iPhone, Kindle and YouTube, the notion of the book is becoming increasingly elastic as publishers mash together text, video and Web features in a scramble to keep readers interested in an archaic form of entertainment.

On Thursday, for instance, Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King, is working with a multimedia partner to release four “vooks,” which intersperse videos throughout electronic text that can be read — and viewed — online or on an iPhone or iPod Touch.

New York Times: For more than 500 years the book has been a remarkably stable entity: a coherent string of connected words, printed on paper and bound between covers.

But in the age of the iPhone, Kindle and YouTube, the notion of the book is becoming increasingly elastic as publishers mash together text, video and Web features in a scramble to keep readers interested in an archaic form of entertainment.

On Thursday, for instance, Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King, is working with a multimedia partner to release four “vooks,” which intersperse videos throughout electronic text that can be read — and viewed — online or on an iPhone or iPod Touch.

The most obvious way technology has changed the literary world is with electronic books. Over the past year devices like Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader have gained in popularity. But the digital editions displayed on these devices remain largely faithful to the traditional idea of a book by using words — and occasional pictures — to tell a story or explain a subject.

The new hybrids add much more. In one of the Simon & Schuster vooks, a fitness and diet title, readers can click on videos that show them how to perform the exercises. A beauty book contains videos that demonstrate how to make homemade skin-care potions.

Not just how-tos are getting the cinematic work-up. Simon & Schuster is also releasing two digital novels combining text with videos a minute or 90 seconds long that supplement — and in some cases advance — the story line.

The children’s division of HarperCollins recently released the first in a young-adult mystery series called “The Amanda Project,” and has invited readers to discuss clues and characters on a Web site. As the series continues, some of the reader comments may be incorporated into minor characters or subplots.

Susan Katz, publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, predicted that “there is going to be a popular kind of literature where the author is seen as the leader of a large group and will pick and choose from these suggestions” by readers.

Jude Deveraux, a popular romance author who has written 36 straightforward text novels, said she loved experimenting with “Promises,” an exclusive vook set on a 19th-century South Carolina plantation in which the integrated videos add snippets of dialogue and atmosphere. Ms. Deveraux said she envisioned new versions of books enhanced by music or even perfume. “I’d like to use all the senses,” she said.

Some authors scoff at the idea of mixing the two mediums. “As a novelist I would never ever” allow videos to substitute for prose, said Walter Mosley, the author of “Devil in a Blue Dress” and other novels.

“Reading is one of the few experiences we have outside of relationships in which our cognitive abilities grow,” Mr. Mosley said. “And our cognitive abilities actually go backwards when we’re watching television or doing stuff on computers.”

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