Yesterday, we explored Apple's discussions with newspaper, magazine and textbook publishers about creating a new type of hybridised media for an Apple tablet. Vooks—interactive books for the PC/iPhone—are a telling example of such an idea gone wrong.
Starting today, four Vooks are available for $US7 a pop. They're essentially part-book, part-video stories and instructional texts that can link you to social networking sites should you want to fanboy out to your awesome Vook.
While the idea is sound, the product looks no better than a mid-90s encyclopaedia on CD.
And it really makes us realise, mixing medias—especially enhancing text for fiction—is tricky beyond the mere subject of taste. We're used to watching both news and fart-related video clips on a blog, but embedded flash video is just corny when placed next to a murder mystery.
Part of the challenge is format. UI needs to be updated to something we haven't really seen before — or maybe even imagined. Jumping across media should be a natural, passive experience. That part seems doable, though extremely difficult, with touch, camera and even voice interfaces. For instance, you could track a reader's eyes to a certain word and activate a sound. You could make a page turn naturally to a full screen video as opposed to relegating clips to an awkward 480x360 box.
But when hybridising media, the part that could be even tougher is one of budgetary constraints. As soon as a book includes video, a publishing house becomes a production house and a writer becomes a director/editor. Stephen King's prose might send chills up your spine, but the local cable commercial quality video blurb sitting beside it won't have the budgetary love of a Hollywood flick, at least, not unless Stephen King or somebody else is going to take a paycut (or sell a LOT more books).
Advertising books costs money. Printing and distributing books costs money. But writing a book? That part's basically free.