Thursday, October 1, 2009

Read Any Good Vooks Lately?

Simon & Schuster today introduces four new online video books -- or "vooks," as they're calling them -- which on the one hand seems like a technological step forward (a novel punctuated by 17 video enactments) and a step backward (you have to read the text on your computer monitor or, worse, your iPhone). Kindles don't support video, a shortcoming that the publisher tries to turn into a virtue: "No special software required."

In short, you can now read and watch a book at the same time -- an endeavour likely to stir debate in itself as to whether that's a cultural advancement or yet another step on the path toward mass illiteracy. For better or worse, social networking will be enabled on each title's Website, so that you can interact with other readers, and even the author.

Of the four new titles, two are fiction and two are "how-to" fitness and beauty books, for which video admittedly seems more practical and pertinent.

The video is supplied by TurnHere, an Internet video production company which claims to have a network of 7,000 professional filmmakers.

According to an AP report, "Video books are unlikely to become standard in the near future if only because of the expense of filming. Executives at Vook and Simon & Schuster would not say how much it cost to shoot video for the four books, although ... the budget for an individual title was less than $100,000."

Factor in the newly complicated logistics of the creative process, which transforms from a solitary enterprise to a collaborative one, and you can imagine publishing execs wondering if vooks are truly a meritorious innovation, or merely another harebrained scheme to prop up a dying industry.

(The New York Times reports on the pros, cons, and consequences of vooks: "Curling Up With Hybrid Books, Videos Included.")

The first four titles sell for $6.99 each, which is $3 less than for most Kindle e-books.

Will people buy vooks? Will they read and watch them? Will video augment or diminish the pleasures of print?

Top editors of print magazines know that the best editorial packages are those in which the text and images are independently powerful, but when combined they do more than complement each other -- they create an impact larger than the sum of the parts.

Too often, videojournalism merely mimics the text story it accompanies (and vice versa). Ideally each should be freestanding, and yet provide information and sensation that the other cannot, so that readers/viewers are delivered an overall experience that they couldn't have received from just one or the other.

We wonder whether a vook can combine text and video as creatively and compelling as, say, our favorite vagazine.

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