inTouch: Do E-Books Need Soundtracks?
Booktrack, a new startup that gives books a soundtrack challenges the notion of reading as a quiet pastime that involves flipping pages in near silence. With Booktrack, you can still flip pages (on a screen), but the silence is being replaced by ambient noise and sound effects that align with the story. Booktrack takes e-books and gives them atmospheric sounds, much as one would experience while watching a movie. For now, Booktracks can only be consumed on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, with editions for Android and other devices coming soon. The first Booktrack release is The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore, a young adult novel that retails at $12.99 for the Booktrack (the standard e-book is $9.99), but if you want to test it out, you can download a free app for Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Speckled Band.
Booktrack has garnered a lot of interest and one if its investors is Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal. Perhaps this collaboration between book publishers, music publishers, and a startup company will be a model for other ventures…or perhaps digital publishing will involve more companies that combine these functions under one umbrella.
Like Wauters, I don’t agree with the statement in the Booktrack press release that e-books are like “movies with no soundtrack.” I am all for innovation and am keenly aware that reading with sound is not for everyone or for every story, but this added feature could make reading more inviting for a lot of people. What impressed me most about Booktrack was its synchronization. You can adjust the speed via controls and the book also adjusts to you, so it can match up sound effects with your reading speed. You hear the sound of a door slamming or being unlocked just as you read it in the book.
Since I was eager to give Booktrack a real spin and I don’t currently own any of the compatible devices, I enlisted some help. Here is what I learned (tech-wise): the functionality of the free app is not the easiest to master and if you want to hear the app on an iPhone, you need headphones.
While the founder and CEO notes in the press release that “tens of millions of commuters around the world” are “listening to a playlist that’s disconnected from what they’re reading,” music lover Jenae Brathwaite had a different reaction: “…it feels like mixing books and movies. I prefer to set my own mood with the music.” Still, she pronounced it “very interesting.” I too am used to movie soundtracks ushering in a mood, but I’m not accustomed to that happening while I read a book.
Medical editor Judith Orvos wrote, “I came away feeling that I wanted to turn off the background music and keep the sound effects” because she found the background music “distracting.” Orvos suggested something that would be akin to a visual audiobook: “What would really be great is to hear the characters’ dialogue instead of, or in addition to, the sound effects.”
Kate Hough, who does not read e-books regularly, was skeptical of Booktrack’s premise after reading a description but found she liked reading on her iPhone more than she thought she would. Hough wondered if Booktrack would really adjust to her reading speed or if she’d have to keep using the controls to change the speed, but did “enjoy the background sound” of the app’s Sherlock Holmes story since “it made sense of the literary period.”
To me, Booktrack is more sounds than soundtrack. While I know that the word soundtrack is not solely defined as a collection of songs where people sing, that is still the first thing that comes to mind. When I first heard of Booktrack that is what I thought it would be.
In a time when music rights are often disputed it would be difficult to get permission to add songs to an enhanced e-book, but wouldn’t that be amazing?
I can imagine The Beautiful Struggle, a book that uses hip hop lyrics as chapter titles being enhanced with those very songs, plus the ambient sounds of cars whizzing by and the low-level hum of people talking in the author’s native Baltimore. Or White Teeth, with a mix of the music that reflects England, Jamaica, Bangladesh and the characters’ different religious backgrounds blended with the sounds of the London streets.
Would you like your books with music? Or do you think the sound would interfere with your enjoyment?
Enjoy a Booktrack trailer starring Petra Nemcova and James Frey.
Check out brief previews of The Power of Six and Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Speckled Band.
Read about what happened when they added sound to movies: from silent films to talkies.
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Elsewhere in inReads: Our reluctant e-reader discusses enhanced e-books.