Wednesday, February 09, 2011

On The Future Development Of Mixed Media Novels

I ran across this today--an Amazon recommended book for February, called Delirium by Lauren Oliver.  It's a YA novel, and I loved her earlier book, Before I Fall.  So, a good recommendation, and one I will take seriously, but NOT the reason I am writing this.

No, the real reason I am writing this is because on the Amazon page for Delirium, Lauren Oliver provides a playlist--what amounts to a soundtrack to the book.  And this makes me think, again, about the future of the novel and of long form storytelling.  Because this playlist might have been the music that Lauren Oliver listened to while she wrote the book, but why shouldn't books have a soundtrack just like movies and TV do?

Sure, this particular iteration is awkward and rather unlikely--you don't find this playlist unless you look at the book on Amazon.  If you just picked it up in the bookstore, or borrowed it from the library, it doesn't seem like there is a link to the playlist.  Nor is the "playlist" actually playable on Amazon.  You can click the links to hear a sample of the music, and purchase it through Amazon's mp3 store, this increasing Amazon's profit margin.  So, yeah--kind of cynical, but also sort of brilliant.

I have a recollection that a million years ago (in cultural terms, otherwise known as 1998) Laura Esquivel wrote released Law of Love, her much less successful follow-up to her blockbuster Like Water for Chocolate.  Amazon confirms my memory that the book came with a CD of music that you were supposed to play while reading the book--Puccini arias and Mexican dances.  I never bought this book, and my recollection is that the CD portion was not particularly well reviewed.  Of course, neither was the book, which may have been a large part of the problem.

But why not push it further, now that the world is embracing Kindles and other e-readers?  (Yes, I do have a Nook, although I prefer to read on my iPod or my Droid phone.)  All these devices have sound capability, so why not have music programmed to the pages.  Surely, there is some ability to link the two.  I really think there is a future in truly multi-platform reading, and that these are the first clumsy steps toward that future.

There are opportunities for cross-promotion.  A playlist like this could be assembled into a one-click purchase on iTunes or Napster easily.  Amazon could (I assume, not being a coder of any description) also assemble the various songs into an one-click "album" and even allow you to purchase it at a discount along with the book.  This ought to be especially easy to do in ebook format, shouldn't it?

Hallmark is currently promoting the hell out of recordable storybooks right now, the latest version of books on tape, which appears to have embedded the audio in the book itself.  Surely I am not the only one who sees how books are beginning to look like blogs and internet pages.

Look, ebook readers have preserved the image of books--they still have "page turn" functions.  There is no real reason for this, technologically, but it does speak to a way we have acculturated to the form of a book.  Why not approach reading from the other direction as well--make books more like web pages, with music, embedded video, clickable links?  Paper books will always exist, but ebooks have the potential to be so much more than mere digitized books.  Somebody get on this now!

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