Vook.tv: Right Suspicion, Wrong Idea
So this guy Bradley Inman -- a thriller novelist and California entrepreneur -- is trying to create a company that adds value to novels by giving them high electronic production values, lots of original digital video, and a social media component. He has hired Sara Nelson (the former editor of "Publisher's Weekly") to be a consultant on his new project.

Inman feels that the problem with selling books today is that books don't have enough movies in them.

He is also asking the other hard questions facing publishing: why don't the characters in novels have their own Twitter streams? Why can't you tell authors of books exactly what is wrong with their prose in publisher-hosted forums that will help authors "fix" their ideas before the next version comes out?

Inman intends to address these concerns by acquiring a massive amount of start-up capital and then selling his company off to some struggling publishing house that believes in his business model. In the meantime, he is calling his creations "vooks." You know, half book, half video. A vook.

From the New York Times:

"Vook tries to address a big problem for book publishers as they expand onto digital formats. For all the hype and initial success of devices like the Kindle, they threaten to strip traditional books of much of their transportive appeal. Images on the jacket cover, inviting fonts and the satisfying feel of quality paper are all largely absent, replaced by humdrum pixels on a virtual page.

"Even worse, on multipurpose reading devices like the iPhone, more immediately gratifying pastimes like video games are a click away for readers with short attention spans."

In addition to writing thriller novels, Inman has also created and sold start-up real estate companies, and he currently runs "TurnHere," a company which creates internet advertisements and web video..

Don't get me wrong: Inman has the right idea about the market. He understands the hunger and hate that surges in publishing houses as they watch their relevance and power shrink, their usefulness dissipating like semen into the ocean as storytellers are courted by film and other electronic media instead of turning to good old fiction to get their junk out.

I agree with his assessment that electronic books need to be more than just text on a screen in order to take full advantage of the possibilities of the fully-integrated multimedia format.

But Inman owns a movie-making company, and when all you have is a knife, everything looks like a throat. Combining movies and books is not something that anybody wants. It is essentially the same concept that killed several video game developers (and at least one console, the Sega Saturn). Developers tried to force video onto their skeptical customers because the urge to fill up their games with full-motion video instead of taking the time to code fun gameplay or write interesting plots was simply too powerful to resist.

Game developers thought that by including video in their games they would make the experiences more immersive and more interactive. They thought people wanted to be constantly reminded that they were the heroes of these stories and that the action was taking place in the real world to real people.

But there was always an insurmountable disjunction. The gameplay was nothing like real life. Both elements suffered: the video always seemed like the tedious build-up to a sex scene in porn, and the gameplay always seemed like random bullshit that you had to do in order to journey to the next bit of "fun video."

Not only dated and hard to watch, these FMVs for video games were fundamentally hostile to the very idea of video games: they reminded you of reality at all turns, and constantly shoved it in your face that you were wasting your time playing a stupid game. The actors were unskilled and bored. People assumed the same weaknesses in the game developer.

When people throw down their money for a game (or book), they want to explore what is different about this medium, not how the medium can converge toward America's most successful industry, film. If they buy a book or video game, it means they are sick of watching movies. It means that (for a while anyway) consumers want to participate in the unique power of a competing art form.

In the case of a video game, they want to control their experience and feel directly connected to every plot point and transition. In the case of a book, they want to put their imagination through aerobic combat and delve as deep as possible into the emotional or philosophical ramifications of a brand new idea or situation. They want to dream. They want to cast off their flesh and dance around in their bones for awhile.

Giving a person a drug when they crave a dream is what a bad babysitter does. They put on a movie instead of reading a story (and doing all the voices).

This is not to suggest that images and text are always in direct conflict, although I have fought to uphold this position before. However, in the case of an illustrated novel, the images must not do anything that the novel does better. They must create atmosphere and possibility instead of narrowing the illusions of the reader, forcefeeding her the difficult structures that the author has worked so hard to make delicious.

That being said, there is a tremendous amount of work to do as far as making electronic books into something new, something bold, and something valuable -- a medium that takes full advantage of all the available technology. Creators and innovators in publishing should fear no experiment and should explore every possibility.

However, there is nothing WRONG with stories as they are. Adding video vignettes and reenactments, adding Twitter, adding social networking: these are all gestures that make the reader question the writer's skill. They are wrong turns. They do not add to the power of the art.

A ninja with a machine gun is not as intimidating as a ninja with a paring knife. Publishers must find new ways to deploy their ninjas and stop looking for new ways to arm them. The ninjas are fine at killing. They are experts, in fact. They simply need the respect of clients who can pay.

Posted by miracle on Fri, 08 May 2009 10:59:51 -0400 -- permanent link

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