App of the Month - Audible.com

With all this talk about Vooks and the convergence of multimedia and text into one coherent product, it’s hard not to ignore the original convergence point for novels and other practical non-fiction. Of course I’m talking about audiobooks, which started off in 1931 to help blind adults who couldn’t read print. First presented on the records popular of the time, in the 1980s the audiobook made the jump first to cassette tape and then to CDs.

Today, services like Audible.com offer downloadable audiobooks that you can load onto an iPod, Kindle, or other mp3 player with the proverbial click of a button. Non-fiction in areas such as business, science and technology, and self development exist side-by-side with mystery novels, romances, and science fiction among other types of fiction as well. The strongest benefit of Audible is that it removes the audiobook from cassettes and CDs, much like an eBook removes books from having to be printed on paper — “dead trees” as some eBook advocates call them.

Converting audiobooks to electrons does have a significant drawback though, given than you now need to use two devices to listen to the book in your car: one is your mp3 player and the other is a connector to hook the player into your car stereo. Audible has another downside, despite its consistent topping of the audiobook market, and that’s the practice of using “credits” instead of real dollars to purchase audiobooks. For $7.49 a month for the first three months, you get one credit. One credit equals one book downloaded. Their subscription plans increase from there, all the way up to the possibility of purchasing 24 credits at once for $229.50 with a two-year subscription.

The downside of course is that once you use all the credits up, you don’t have any more until your subscription renews. Despite that issue, the service still offers the ability to purchase and keep audiobooks on your devices for as long as you want assuming your player has enough storage capacity. For this reason, Audible is August’s App of the Month.

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Tech Desk

From the Tech Desk

This Month: Is the Vook the future of reading?

“Print is dead” appears to be a common refrain these days. Publishers lament that no one reads any more, and many published books are aimed to hit the lowest common denominator with the idea to entrance non-readers into wandering into a corner bookstore, Barnes & Noble, or the book section at the local superstore and picking up a paperback.

The Vook, launched in 2009, aims to change all that with its combination of text, video, social media tools, and other new technologies to turn reading into an immersive multimedia experience. Essentially an eBook that happens to include multimedia, the aptly named Vook Inc. has partnered most notably with Simon & Schuster to release titles in this blend of video, text, and social media.

A vook is an interesting concept, blending videos with text and the ability to instantly interact via social media. I can definitely see a benefit to having the intersection of media, as this is something that’s been happening in newspapers and magazines for some time now. Log onto websites for publications the likes of Wired, The New York Times, and The Economist and you’ll see videos and social media tools combined into the news and feature stories.

One secondary benefit to this convergence is that you might (a rather big might in fact) attract non-readers; someone who’s a fan of movies and doesn’t read very much might enjoy this intersection of books and movies. These benefits aside, I can’t ignore the format lock that happens with a Vook. It’s not anything related to the DRM issue of Amazon’s Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook, but rather the knowledge that in order to read a vook you must be carrying around a separate piece of technology at all times. Whether this is an iPad, iPhone, laptop, other tablet computer, Android smartphone, or what have you doesn’t matter.

The simple fact of your eyes needing to be exposed to a glowing screen to read a vook can’t be escaped. Considering that the Kindle and Nook have tried to do away with a glowing screen, this can be a real problem for readers’ eyes. Blink rate shrinks by half when you’re staring at a computer screen, and the American Optometric Association cautions that people who spend a long amount of time in front of a computer screen run the risk of significant vision problems. The glowing screen of vooks then might compound this danger. Knowing this drawback, and the potential upside of having video and text converged into one, I find myself wondering where the concept could really shine. It’s certainly not novels. Why would you bother placing a video in a specific place in a novel when you can simply make a film or television show out of it?

Placing a video inside a novel seems like it somehow lessens the quintessential experience of reading fiction. Or maybe that’s just me. I can, however, see a decided benefit in the area of practical non-fiction. How-to books about things like knitting, yoga, or web design could do much better when combined with the video and discussion capabilities of a vook. It’s much easier to learn something from a combination of methods, and having instructions only goes so far for a lot of people. Better to have a video that you can play at your leisure while reading the instructions.

The convergence of learning styles is the most interesting part of practical non-fiction in a vook. For example, readers flipping through the cookvook (not my term) The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen can read the recipes included in the text and then follow along with author Eric Gower as he cooks in one of the videos included. I’d purchase a vook for that experience more than anything — I’m something of a fan about cookbooks and love the concept of not needing to have the TV running at the same time I’m cooking. Have you ever tried to follow TV cooking shows?

Back to my original question: Is the Vook the future of reading? Based on looking at the format, and the pitfalls and benefits that come with it, I have to say that perhaps it’s the future on the practical non-fiction side of the equation and even perhaps for college textbooks, but novels will by and large remain a purely textual medium for at least a fair number of readers. I’m also not convinced the vook will engage non-readers to a format they wouldn’t normally pick up anyway. That’s my view from the tech desk at least.

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Matthew Delman has ten years of experience editing and writing for newspapers. He has penned articles on travel, business, education, and health, which have appeared in publications such as The Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.), The Salem News (Salem, Mass.), and websites owned by Hello Metro. Matthew’s short fiction has been published in FISSURE Magazine (November 2010) and by Nevermet Press (April 2011). * * * * * Previous From the Tech Desk articles: The Worrisome Nature of Spam in the Kindle Store Is Print-on-Demand really a game changer? Has the eBook Agency Model Harmed Sales?


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