I recently watched a fascinating presentation by Mark Waid called Reinventing Comics. If you like comics it’s worth a watch (I believe it’s a preview of the future), but today I’m writing about books. Because while comics might need reinventing, books do not.
A lot of the comments I read on this video said things like “now someone needs to do this for novels” and “when will this be done for all books?” I was surprised because it’s been tried and people are still trying.
Reinventing books is an old idea that isn’t gaining any traction.
Apple released software that makes it easy to create interactive ebooks with video, audio, multi-touch models and more. Booktrack lets you add effects and a soundtrack to ebooks. And now Socialbook wants to make reading a social experience, letting your friends scribble notes in the margins of your book, highlight portions, pull out quotes and even re-arrange the content.
But none of these gimmicks have revolutionised books which remain, largely, words on the page. And for one very simple reason:
Gimmicks are distractions from the narrative.
I downloaded the Charlie Brown’s Christmas app last year. I was all hopped up on Christmas chocolate and wanted to try an interactive book. And while it’s not an awful little app, all the interactive elements were just…naff.
•Voiceover? Switched off; I like reading, not being read to.
•Tap the pictures to make them move? Why? All they do is wiggle to a sound effect.
• Play the music along with Schroeder? All that does is remind me I’m no good at music.
And all of these things stopped the story from flowing and yanked me out of the narrative again and again. No-one likes being interrupted while they read, but in this case I had paid for the interruptions to be part and parcel of the book itself.
Trying to cram in interactivity and video and the social media isn’t reinventing books.
It’s creating a bastard of book and app, a Jack of all trades. It removes focus from the key element, the words, in favour of bells and whistles. But people who want bells and whistlea buy apps. And people who want words buy books.
So to the people who think that books need to enter the 21st Century, I have only this to say: keep all your bells and whistles. A good book needs only the words and a quiet place to read them in.
And letting your friends rearrange the content of your book? Are you high?