Thursday, October 1, 2009

Them: "Save a tree, Read (and watch) a Vook!", Me: Umm, NO

Simon and Schuster announced this morning that, together with Atria Books, they've created a "new and innovative way to read"--the Vook.

A file that combines text and video to create a single story, vooks are meant to be played either on your computer or handheld device, such as an iPhone or iPod Touch. The S&S press release tells us more:

NEW YORK, NY and EMERYVILLE, CA, October 1, 2009 — Beginning today, people can enjoy an entirely new and innovative way to read. The vook blends text and video into a single, integrated and uninterrupted reading and viewing experience, enabling readers to seamlessly read, watch, and enjoy both text and video at the same location on their screen. A state-of-the-art advancement in digital book technology, a vook uses high-quality, professionally produced video to add depth to the practical information offered by nonfiction in a way that static pictures or illustrations could not previously accomplish. For fiction, vooks use text and video interdependently to advance the plot and enhance the sense of place.

Four vooks are being published today by Atria Books as part of a partnership between Simon & Schuster, Inc., and Vook, who jointly announced today’s news. The inaugural vook titles are available in two formats: standalone mobile applications for the iPhone and iPod touch (at the Apple App Store), or as Web browser based editions (, and

Vooks, hmmm. I thought about this for a little bit before starting this post. I even watched the "What is a vook" video on the S&S website. And I've come to a conclusion: they aren't doing anything for me. Not only because of the love you all know I have for the book as a physical object, but because this idea is not nearly as innovative as S&S seems to think. Sure, it's never been done when it comes to books and it is a new way to "experience" a book, but all I think when I see this is A) instructional video, B) film with subtitles.

People don't want to watch books; they want to read books. If a visual experience is what someone wants, they'll rent a movie or watch TV or even a film adaptation if it's the story they're interested in. Or hell, if you want pictures, get a picture book! But novels being "read" by watching them like subtitles on a television screen? No, thanks.

It makes me so sad to think that everyone is trying so hard to move books into "the future," when books are just fine just the way they are. Sure, e-books are handy for some people, and that's fine. I've made my peace with that. But books in all their tangibility don't need to be improved.

Some say the first book ever written goes all the way back to the Sumerians with their cunieform writing in 2095 B.C. Others say it was Herodotus's "History" in 5th century B.C. The list goes on, all including that little "B.C." While, yes, we have created new technologies in terms of type of material, binding and paper treatments, covers and trim sizes, since those recordings, the core concept of the book has remained the same. Words somehow enscripted on a physical object to be read by others. It's a solid concept, a perennial concept. I understand the need, of course, for electronic archiving techniques, as physical objects do eventually wear away. But why muddy the classic, timeless nature of the book, and the experience of reading, by throwing every new technology into the mix to make a vook?

I don't get it. I don't want to get it. I want my books back please.

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