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Idealog—in the ideas business

Kiwi software Booktrack puts the interactive into e-books


Backed by Facebook billionaire investor Peter Thiel, a Kiwi technology designed to make e-books a more immersive experience by matching sound effects to text is about to create a "new genre of entertainment".

Booktrack – an app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, with an Android version to be released later this year – was created by New Zealand brothers Mark and Paul Cameron.

It matches music, sound effects and ambient audio to book text on an e-reader, keeping pace with the user word for word.

The venture is backed by Facebook investor and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, Facebook's director of global creative solutions Mark D'Arcy and cofounder of the Hyperfactory Derek Handley.

Booktrack cofounder and chief executive Paul Cameron said the app provided a "movie-like experience" that would alter reading for millions of people.

According to Cameron, who also founded the Marops Defence Projects Division in 2006 – a high tech electronics and software company that serves the defence industry – technology that can synchronise sound and music within an e-book did not exist until now.

“Around the world, millions of commuters and others read while listening to music that is disconnected or at odds with the book they are reading on their mobile devices. With Booktrack they have a complete movie-like sound experience that transforms their enjoyment of the text and which keeps perfect pace with both their reading speed and their imagination”.

Handley, who is also Booktrack's chairman, said initially the concept didn’t make sense on paper.

But 30 seconds into his first demonstration, he knew it would change reading forever, he said.

“From a business perspective it’s one of those paradigm shifts that you rarely come across. Ten or 20 years from now it will be absurd to think of creating a book without a Booktrack, it’ll be like creating a movie with no sound.

"Booktrack is audio-3D for books so will appeal to all those who enjoy reading. From a literary and content perspective, it is a new genre of entertainment.”

Thiel said it was always exciting to witness the creation of a new media form.

"Booktrack’s technology promises to captivate readers in a way that will seem intuitive in hindsight and compelling ever after.”

Titles available include Sherlock Holmes, The Ugly Duckling, Pride and Prejudice and James Frey’s new sci-fi novel The Power of Six – the sequel to I am Number Four.

The soundtracks were developed in collaboration with HarperCollins, SonyATV, Wellington-based Park Road Post Production, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and a number of composers.

Park Road general manager Cameron Harland said it represented a whole new opportunity for the industry, one with "endless possibilities".

Three years in development, Booktrack has received financial support from the Ministry of Science and Innovation, and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

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Ten or 20 years from now it will be absurd to think of creating a book without a Booktrack, it’ll be like creating a movie with no sound.”

Bold call but a bit absurd. Movies are hard to understand without sound (speech) but the absence of a soundtrack to an e-book doesn't take anything away from the experience (in terms of fundamental understanding).

Oh purleeze this is the worst idea since scratch n sniff.

The whole point - and I mean the whole point - of reading is to set forth the imagination into realms unknown and unexpected. Adding clichéd sounds of cars, whales and bars is beyond insulting.

I predict: epic fail.

give it a chance…hope it has the option of being able to shut off the music etc if it DOESNT match the reader's pace, fails to excite the reader or detracts from enjoying and reflecting upon the text. lets test whether it increases a desire for reading, say with children, or whether a dry text book is made more palatable. perhaps not just before an exam…

I like this idea. From previous comments, it will probably attract more younger readers than older readers, already set in their ways. No matter how bright the idea, it seems to on the narrow minded. Booktracks definitely offers a more immersive reading experience, which is what I would look for. Booktracks could do wonders for Graphic Novels. I look forward to giving it a try.

Thompson S. Hunter

Awful. Distracting and banal - the audio equivalent of clip art.

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