The New New Threat to Books? — “Vooks”

Do you remember the old days?  These are my old days:  you could see a movie in the theater, or you could wait until the Saturday Night at the Movies premiere on television (I think it was ABC).  You could not record it, buy it, rent it, download it, or see an excerpt (your favorite scene) on YouTube…  You either went to the movie theater, or watched it only when it was showing on television.  My, times have changed…

Endangered species?

Endangered species?

Well, on this blog, we have had a robust debate about the future of “books.”  You know, books in printed form, that you can hold in your hand, underline and write in the margins, carry around in book bags.  The Kindle and its now and future rivals are supposed to be the threat to these books.  (And my colleague Karl Krayer is convinced that they really pose no threat at all.  I hate to disagree with my colleague, but…)

Well, now comes something really new.  “Vooks.”  I’ve been thinking about this myself.  What if you could read William Safire’s compilation of speeches, Lend Me Your Ears, and simply push a button/click a mouse and hear excerpts of a speech right in the middle of the book?  This would be way more cool than a dvd that accompanies the sale of some speech/history books.  You know, it takes way too long to load the dvd, find the right speech…  We want it now – right now!

Here’s the really new, new thing.  The New York Times describes the growth industry of “Vooks.”  The article is titled: Curling Up With Hybrid Books, Videos IncludedRead the article here.  Here’s an excerpt:

For more than 500 years the book has been a remarkably stable entity: a coherent string of connected words, printed on paper and bound between covers.
But in the age of the iPhone, Kindle and YouTube, the notion of the book is becoming increasingly elastic as publishers mash together text, video and Web features in a scramble to keep readers interested in an archaic form of entertainment.
On Thursday, for instance, Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King, is working with a multimedia partner to release four “vooks,” which intersperse videos throughout electronic text that can be read — and viewed — online or on an iPhone or iPod Touch.
Some publishers say this kind of multimedia hybrid is necessary to lure modern readers who crave something different. But reading experts question whether fiddling with the parameters of books ultimately degrades the act of reading.
“There is no question that these new media are going to be superb at engaging and interesting the reader,” said Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child development at Tufts University and author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.” But, she added, “Can you any longer read Henry James or George Eliot? Do you have the patience?”

Who knows where all of this will lead?  But for me, a lover of books, I am a little bothered – and a little intrigued and excited.

But there are some who are not so excited:

Some authors scoff at the idea of mixing the two mediums. “As a novelist I would never ever” allow videos to substitute for prose, said Walter Mosley, the author of “Devil in a Blue Dress” and other novels.
“Reading is one of the few experiences we have outside of relationships in which our cognitive abilities grow,” Mr. Mosley said. “And our cognitive abilities actually go backwards when we’re watching television or doing stuff on computers.”

Plenty of authors never wanted to see their books made into movies.  But aren’t we glad they were — at least, for many of them?  Will we someday feel the same way about “vooks?”

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