Earlier this week Booktrack launched a bookstore on its site where readers can pay for ebooks which have been afflicted with audio soundtracks. The store currently stocks around 150 titles, out of a catalog of 12,000 titles produced on the Booktrack platform (according to DBW).
Most are priced between $2 and $8, and there are a few freebies you can sample (including Hugh Howey’s Sand). The ebooks can be read in the web browser, or in Booktrack’s apps for Android and iPad/iPhone. They can also be embedded in other websites, Booktrack reports.
If you think this sounds distracting, you’re right. I downloaded the (free) version of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Speckled Band for the iPad to test things out. The first thing you need to do is shut off the progress indicator, or you will feel constantly harried to read at a steady pace.
The Holmes novel starts with suitably filmic background music, and the ticking of a clock. Later, we enjoy a crackling fire (or paper being screwed up — it’s tricky to tell through the iPad’s terrible speaker. Headphones are recommended) and later, upon turning a page, I heard the sound of a a drawer being unlocked and a book pulled out.
It’s incredibly jarring. The beauty of a book is that the whole world is as real as you can imagine it to be. Adding tawdry effects doesn’t enhance the experience — it just makes the whole thing seem fake. You know how a bad visual effect can pull you right out of a movie? This is the same, only worse.
“It’s difficult to imagine a movie with no soundtrack,” Paul Cameron, Booktrack’s co-founder and CEO told Business Insider, “Yet, until today, the technology did not exist to synchronize music and sound within an e-book”.
My God, he’s right. Similarly it’s hard to imagine an owl without wings — yet, until today, no-one has thought to graft a beak on to a cow.
To the New York Times, Cameron went further: “[Booktrack] makes a new and engaging way to read and really enhances the experience and enhances your imagination and keeps you in the story longer. And it makes it fun to read again. If you’re not reading all the time, it might help you rediscover reading.”
Again, Cameron nails it: reading hasn’t been fun since kindergarten. Why don’t they make pop-up books for grown ups? Why can’t books be more like movies? Hell, while we’re at it, what’s wrong with moving your lips while you read, or with eating soap? Hopefully Cameron’s next start-up will help us do those things too.
Seriously, is this the week all good things die?
If I wanted a soundtrack, I would watch a movie or listen to a song. I read a book because I want to read a book.
That’s why Booktrack’s continued operations continue to confuse me. After 5 years and $5 million in capital, I would have thought the startup would have pivoted by now.
Other startups certainly have. Vook, for example, launched in 2009 with a similarly unmarketable idea (embedded audio and video), and that company had pivoted three times by the end of 2013.
Booktrack, however, is still pursuing the same idea it had in 2010. Either their idea works better than I thought, or they are simply more stubborn.
Which do you think it is?