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Promo for Booktrack
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has invested in a new audio technology for books, ‘Transmedia’, that has new media enthusiasts but has others asking questions about this evolution of storytelling

Booktrack is one of the most thought-provoking new technologies in the creative sector. If the technology itself wasn’t interesting enough, the questions it raises are endlessly fascinating. Booktrack enables the reader to play a soundtrack specially created and synced with the words and one of their promos descibe it as “a fully immersive and captivating reading experience.”


James Frey, the novelist whose first book caused controversy on whether it was autobiography or fiction, stars in a trailer for the product says you want the book to be the best it can be for the people who read it and adding the sound effects just make it cooler. We rushed to be a part of it because the world is changing very, very, quickly and we want to be a part of the changes and we want to be at the front end of what’s happening in publishing and technology.” (Frey’s own innovative publishing company has had soem media heat over its contracts).


The obvious question is the relationship between the soundtrack and words that were intended by the writer to fill the readers mind with sounds and pictures. In some ways it seems a bit like the trend for colorizing black and white movies in the 1980s.


And yet…one of their promos suggests reading Jay McInerney’s 1980s classic Bright Lights Big City with cocktail bar babble in the background, and Moby Dick with the lap of waves against the shore and it suddenly feels immersive, more like a video game than reading. While reading Herman Melville’s epic in its endlessly long original brick-size form somehow mirrors Captain Ahab’s lonely obsession with the whale, one can imagine atmospheric sound encouraging more people to engage with this great piece of storytelling.


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Kindle and the iPad are changing the dynamics of book-creation and production for publishers and authors, and Booktrack seems like an obvious next step. The New York Times presented a basically positive report. But there’s already critics out there who are far from impressed. In a review entitled Bad Ideas: Booktrack Adds Sound Effects, Music To Books Wired’s Charlie Sorrel writes, “You know how a bad visual effect can pull you right out of a movie?” But on the other hand, some experts point to its value in encouraging. But on the other  who’s to argue with the co-founder of PayPal?


Would love to hear your thoughts on this.


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