Video killed the literary star: Penguin, Starz create first “amplified” book.
In what can only be called an attempt to create books for people who don’t like to read, Penguin and Starz, the pay TV channel, have combined to create an “amplified” e-book version of Ken Follett’s best-selling historical novel, Pillars of the Earth, as an app for Apple’s iPad, iPhone and iPod.
This unholy abomination — or, as I like to call it, “Frankenbook,” — burdens Follett’s text with enhancements like character profiles and videos from the Starz miniseries adaptation of the novel, which begins airing July 23.
“This is the future of books,” says Marc DeBevoise, senior VP of digital media business development for Starz. But then he would say that, wouldn’t he?
To someone who already reads books by choice — actual adult books with lots of words and few if any pictures (and those pictures don’t move), let me say: If this thing finds an audience, it won’t be the future of books, it will be the beginning of the end.
If you prefer to indulge old-fashioned reading pleasures like, say, imaging for yourself, in collaboration with the actual words the author has put on the page, what characters look and sound like, then forget it. Read this version of Follet’s book and Bishop Bigod, the tale’s chief villain, is Ian McShane. Its main hero, Tom, is Rufus Sewell.
Aren’t you glad Penguin and Starz are freeing you from that pesky inconvenience of, you know, thinking?
Starz and Penguin, of course, are touting the daylights out of the thing. Starz has little to lose and lots of synergy and publicity to gain — it’s like a traditional movie-book tie-in on steroids. The real gambit, as Reuters‘ story explains, lies with Penguin, which, like other publishers, is chafing under Amazon’s $9.99 pricing for digital (and many printed) books.
After all, Pillars of the Earth, a best seller when it first came out in 1989, has sold more than 14 million copies worldwide, aided by an Oprah selection in 2007. This cow has already been thoroughly milked. But while Penguin will gladly count whatever additional revenues the Starz tie-in might bring, that’s not the real goal behind Frankenbook.
By loading up a book with superfluous doo-dads and gimcrackery, Penguin hopes to entice “readers” to ante up a higher retail price (the amplified Pillars goes for $12.95). If so, Penguin will have struck a significant blow in the continuing pricing war between publishers and Amazon.
“It’s going to be a very interesting test to see if people want to pay for this,” says Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly tells USA Today.
To which I say, as I’ve said before: The printed book is a perfect, end-state technology. Like the wheel, the umbrella or the pocket knife, it can be elaborated but not improved. But panicking in the new media environment, publishers are making the same mistake newspapers did: They are forgetting what product they’re selling and who their customers are.
People who like books like books. If I want to watch TV, I’ll turn on the idiot box. If I want to learn about history, I’ll pick up (or, okay, boot up) an encyclopedia.
Combining video and other distractions to the printed word can only coarsen and erode the reading experience, and hasten the demise of book culture and the industry that feeds on it.