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Books: Now in Dolby Surround Sound!

by Damon Brown | August 27, 2011August 27, 2011 6:00 am PST

There is a certain peace of mind books create that you won’t get from watching television or playing video games. The sound effects, the acting and the scenery is all in your head. Your inner movie screen can make things as vivid as it wants. You are participating.

It is odd, then, that a (well-funded!) start-up wants to give you a soundtrack to your book. Because, you know, books are boring. Here’s the scoop from one of my favorite publishing sites, MocoNews:

Booktrack, which describes itself as “a new genre of entertainment,” matches “synchronized music, sound effects and ambient sound” to the text of e-books. The soundtrack is paced to match a user’s reading speed. Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Park Road Post Production, which produced the soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings, worked on the soundtrack for The Power of Six.

It reminds me of the steak restaurant skit on Saturday Night Live where the waiters will chew your food for you. I don’t even know where to start with this.

The first issue is that people actually believe this will take off. Major Silicon Valley big wig Peter Thiel is among those funding Booktrack. Raise your hand if you want sound effects while you read The Help. I didn’t think so.

The second problem is that a technology like Booktrack already exists: It’s called audiobooks. Granted, there is absolutely nothing wrong with audiobooks. I rather enjoyed listening to the Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code than reading his writing, and the audio version of Adam Mansbach’s Go The F**k To Sleep comes alive with the Samuel L. Jackson vocals.

But audiobooks work best when you are driving, laying in bed in the dark … you know, situations when you can’t read a book. Booktrack technology manages to combine the work of using your eyes with the obtrusiveness of sound effects and “atmosphere” in your eardrums. It is a collaboration that highlights the worst of each medium.

The sad part is that I actually want publishing to take advantage of technology. I’ve been a long-time supporter of interactive book apps, like Al Gore’s iPad app Our Choice through Push Pop Press. I self-publish books directly to Kindle and NOOK myself, excitedly skipping the unnecessary death of trees. I even brainstormed with a tech friend about how us authors could sign our fan’s Kindle books – until Kindlegraph beat me to it. We shouldn’t keep using a model that was considered innovative by Ben Franklin.

Pulling people away from the rich book experience, however, isn’t the way to go. If a reader wants to be read to, they have audiobooks. If they don’t want words at all, they have movies. And if they need a soundtrack to enjoy a book, perhaps they don’t really want to read the book. I suspect Booktrack will learn this soon enough.

Photo courtesy of mangpages // CC 2.0


Damon Brown

Damon writes CBS's Gadget Watch and is the U.S. Editor of Pocket Gamer. He also writes books about music, sex, and tech. Damon's latest is The...

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