Soundtracked eBooks Are Still a Stunt, and Not (Yet) The Future of eBooks

22885204209_6a8e010a44_hThe Independent has a puff piece up this week on Booktrack, the four-year-old startup that has been trying without much luck to promote the idea of ebooks with embedded soundtracks.

The rustle of paper and the musty aroma of tightly packed pages is key, for many readers, to the appeal of picking up a physical book rather than a digital one, but Brits may just have found something equally sensuous.

Soundtracked books – ebooks with sound effects – started appearing on sale four years ago, but exclusive research from the market leader, Booktrack, shows Britain is now the second-keenest nation, after the US, to wrap its eyes and ears around this revamped medium. The new study shows the total number of people in Britain using the medium has increased 13 times since July, and reveals the Booktrack app has 2.5 million users worldwide.

The piece asks essentially the same question that The Guardian asked in 2012 and The Atlantic asked in 2011: Is this the future of ebooks?

Given that we are debating the same question four years later, it's safe to say the answer is no, or rather: not yet. Soundtracks in ebooks has gotten little attention from publishers, the major ebook platforms, or the public.

And most importantly, Amazon has not added this feature to the Kindle platform.

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In the past four years Amazon has adopted fixed layout, PDFs, embedded audio and video, and Epub-like KF8 and KFX enhancements. Amazon has even gone so far as to add Whispersync for voice, which enables readers to sync an ebook with a spoken word audiobook. But they have not added soundtracks.

To be clear, I am not saying Amazon is the arbiter of the future of ebooks, although arguably they do set the standard. My point is that we won't see widespread use until Amazon copies this idea and adds it to the Kindle platform.

Coney Island Freak Show

Don't forget, many of the features in the Kindle platform were first developed on other platforms before Amazon copied them.

  • Embedded audio and video, for example, was first used by Vook in iPhone apps in 2009. The Kindle platform didn't get this feature until 2010.
  • Fixed layout children's books, and audio synced with the text, were two features that we first saw in Baker & Taylor's Blio platform in early 2010; Amazon didn't add those features until over a year later (longer, for Whispersync for Voice).
  • PDFs have been around for a couple decades, and yet Amazon only made them part of the Kindle platform in 2012.

I could go on, but the basic point is that until Amazon copies this idea, it won't be the future of ebooks.

As the single largest ebook platform, Amazon can drive adoption of an idea, or let it suffocate simply by ignoring it. And they have so far chosen to ignore the possibilities of soundtracks in ebooks.

Amazon has turned the Kindle platform into a three-ring circus with many sideshow acts that will never be the main show, but do at least get the attention of the public. Soundtracks in ebooks, on the other hand, are still very much the freakshow act at a little-known and little-visited circus.

So no, soundtracks in ebooks are not the future.

Thoughts?

images by TORLEYicyFrancecphoffman42

About Nate Hoffelder (11591 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

2 Comments on Soundtracked eBooks Are Still a Stunt, and Not (Yet) The Future of eBooks

  1. For this to really take off, there would have to be some very compelling material that not only perfectly used this technique, but was only available in the format. People are always inventing creative tools like this and then assuming that artists/writers will rush to adopt them. But artist have other work to do than try to figure out to help popularize someone else idea. Sometimes it works, like Wattpad or Vine, but mostly by taping into amateurs.

    It would make a lot more sense if these startups aligned with some good writing talent up front, either paying them or cutting them in on the companies equity.

  2. Nate it’s rare that I disagree with much that you espouse but this is one of those occasions.

    I’ve observed that there are three types of ebook consumer and they don’t all buy from Amazon.

    The conventional type is that which everyone believes will never seek the features you raise because their main reason for reading ebooks is convenience and portability presented by the device they use and it’s access to the reading material. Still seems odd to refer to any user of digital products as conventional 🙂

    The second type of user is the “directed” i.e. those who are required to use ebooks and other digital content formats to progress their education or their work capacity (e.g. mechanic reads ebook manual about a vehicle that he downloads from a library or onboard vehicle computer to complete the work required – I introduced this to some fleet mechanics in the late 90’s although at the time they were PDFs and PCs not ebooks and mobile devices).

    Finally there is a third category the ‘Entertainment Readers’. Upon returning from the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2009 having spent much time talking digital formats, mobility, other mediums (film, music, gaming) and metadata with many publishers and Tech Gurus, I consolidated my understanding and new knowledge to coin the term “Digitally Enhanced Literary Entertainment (DELE)”.

    I had recognised that many people sought an entertainment experience that would be brought to them by their mobile devices that wasn’t just a movie, game, song or book but a hybrid of all of these. I noted that games already incorporated significant graphics and sound, movies have had musical scores since inception and of course there’s the ‘musical’. How can you bring all of this together and present it in a way where the user chooses to run the various features? Ebooks! Of course since 2009 we’ve had the development of EPub 3 and HTML5 among other wonderful formats and tools.

    So an ebook can have a musical score as you commence, music could be incorporated at various junctures in a story either for atmosphere or enhancing the context; audio can be run throughout or perhaps only where speech is part of the content (this could even be stimulated by eye movement in select devices); video or movie clips can be included to present key scenes or in illustrated books you could hover and play scenes related to an image, even a jacket image displayed by an online store could activate to run small trailers of what the book was about. There are probably more features that could be added including interactivity through gaming technologies, Augmented Reality, QR codes linked to retail activities that help fund the production, hot links to the next book in the series, etc. Think of the advantages of some of these features in Children’s books to provide an interactive entertainment and educational experience.

    Our societies are all looking for more entertainment opportunities but DELE presents personalised opportunities for the individual or perhaps even cooperative interactive entertainment for friends enjoying the same ebook.

    You’ll say there’s no market but the basics of selling a product are to establish what people want that is demonstrated either by what they don’t have or already have. If they don’t have something that you can provide you sell by convincing them they need it – sometimes hard, slow and fraught with failure. If they already have it then you repackage it, make it easier to get, add some innovation, identify the various things it replaces, price it comparatively, let them convince themselves – less difficult, much quicker and often successful.

    Excellent marketing of quality product creates users and as we’re talking about entertainment we’re talking pleasure and affordable lifestyle benefits.

    This isn’t about publishing creative work it’s about publishing presentations of creative works, it’s enhancement used to bring creativity into the future. Yes, artists/writers may not wish to popularise someone else’s idea but publishers already popularise the ideas of artists/writers and they do that creatively!

    Anyway who cares who copies innovations….It still builds and expands the market for them!

2 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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  2. “It’s Laudable To Be Audible”: Enhancing the Reading Experience (Or Not) | Readers Unbound

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