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Curling Up With Hybrid Books, Videos Included / MOTOKO RICH / NYTimes / October 1 2009
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. And in early September Anthony E. Zuiker, ... released “Level 26: Dark Origins,” a novel — published on paper, as an e-book and in an audio version — in which readers are invited to log on to a Web site to watch brief videos that flesh out the plot.
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.
The new hybrids add much more. In one of the Simon & Schuster vooks, a fitness and diet title, readers can click on videos that show them how to perform the exercises. A beauty book contains videos that demonstrate how to make homemade skin-care potions. Not just how-tos are getting the cinematic work-up. Simon & Schuster is also releasing two digital novels combining text with videos a minute or 90 seconds long that supplement — and in some cases advance — the story line.
“Everybody is trying to think about how books and information will best be put together in the 21st century,” said Judith Curr, publisher of Atria Books, the Simon & Schuster imprint that is releasing the electronic editions in partnership with Vook, a multimedia company. She added, “You can’t just be linear anymore with your text.”
In some cases, social-networking technologies enable conversations among readers that will influence how books are written. The children’s division of HarperCollins recently released the first in a young-adult mystery series called “The Amanda Project,” and has invited readers to discuss clues and characters on a Web site. As the series continues, some of the reader comments may be incorporated into minor characters or subplots.
Some authors believe the new technologies can enrich books. For his history of street songs in 18th-century France, Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard University Library, will include links to recordings of the actual tunes.
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