Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

November 8, 2010

Frank Remarks: Will Books be Experienced Not Just Read in the Future

Filed under: Frank Remarks,On Writing — Frank Fiore @ 12:00 PM

They’ve been called v-books, digi-books, t-books, multimedia books and Cydecks — all with essentially the same concept: It’s a book . . . but wait, there’s more!

The Washington Post did a review of the concept and its present examples.

Is a hybrid book our future? Maybe. “As discourse moves from printed pages to network screens, the dominant mode will be things that are multi-modal and multilayered,” says Bob Stein, founder of the Institute for the Future of the Book. “The age of pure linear content is going to pass with the rise of digital network content.”

Predicting the eventual death of the traditional novel sounds practically heretical. But keep in mind that the genre has actually existed in English for only about 300 years, and that experimentation and evolution have always been a part of the way we tell stories.

Perhaps the folly isn’t in speculating that the book might change, but in assuming that it won’t.

Washington Post article lists many variations on the transmedia theme.

The bells and whistles in hybrid books are endless. In “The Sherlock Holmes Experience” — one of six books, including “Embassy,” published by Vook since the company launched in October — two classic Arthur Conan Doyle stories are annotated with video clips of historians sharing Holmesian trivia. Hyperlinks pepper the text, sending readers to Wikipedia pages explaining old-fashioned terms.

In “The Amanda Project,” a young-adult series launched earlier this fall, three teens investigate the disappearance of a mutual friend, primarily in a book but also on a companion Web site, where readers are encouraged to upload their own “clues” to Amanda’s presence. Some contributions will be incorporated into the second book, due out in February.

In “Skeleton Creek,” another work for tweens, the narrative alternates between the written diary of Ryan, a housebound teen trying to investigate strange occurrences in his home town, and the video missives of his best friend, Sarah. Ryan — and the reader — access Sarah’s transmissions by logging onto a Web site with various passwords, provided at the end of each chapter.

Myebook, which helps users self-publish books online, is flexible with the definition of “book,” allowing text to be mashed up with video and applications.

One such example of the transmedia experience is the novel Embassy by Richard Doetsch. Joanna Penn chimed in with her review of the Vook experience.

  • Overall, I am impressed and enjoyed the experience. I would definitely buy another one. I heard about the Vook back in April and have been waiting for it to arrive. I’m not disappointed and I can see the application to many different kinds of books.
  • The ebook format was easy to read on the iPhone, although I wanted to be able to keep scrolling through the chapters instead of going back to the menu to choose the next one. You could change the text size but the default text was good for me.
  • The videos were tastefully done in the main, and did not detract from the story or reveal too much. I particularly liked the scenic videos with music, which gave atmosphere and depth to the text. I liked seeing the stone which was central to the story, and I wanted to see the boat on the ocean. The news flash video did bring the story alive, but the running video and hostage video added nothing to the story. I preferred the videos with no talking and I didn’t want to see the characters, as I think the videos should enhance the text, not influence what my imagination does with the story. Generally, a good idea but not necessary in every chapter.
  • I really liked seeing the author, Richard Doetsch, on video at the end and this is an excellent way of building a relationship between reader and author. It should also help build the author brand, and help sales of other books which are mentioned at the end.
  • The story itself was fine, but more of a novella and I expected a longer book for the price. A longer book would not need more video so needn’t be more expensive from that angle. Even just having a video of the author at the end of a standard ebook is a good idea for starters. I won’t buy another novella for that price – I would expect a full length ebook next time.
  • How could the Vook be expanded? Having read Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ last week, I can immediately see the application of these types of video to stories like that. I would have loved to see the Washington architecture as it was described, as well as the actual video that is used as a plot device by Dan Brown. I would also like to buy travel books with these types of video – not just the guides, but travel narratives. I recently reread “Inhaling the Mahatma” by Christopher Kremmer. I love India and have been myself, but I would love to see what he saw and wrote about. These video clips don’t need to be so ‘professional’ as the ones in the Vook, travel narrative could have raw local footage.

So what about the future? Is the traditional novel of bygone days going the way of the dodo bird?

Stein of the Institute for the Future of the Book says that whatever assumptions we might make now about hybrid books, there’s a good chance they won’t hold true when the medium grows up. “Things like the Vook are trivial. We’re going to see an explosion of experimentation before we see a dominant new format. We’re at the very beginning stages” of figuring out what narrative might look like in the future. “The very, very beginning.”

Only time will tell.

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