What is a Vook and will it change how you read?

vook_lIs a Vook:

A)   An endangered bird

B)   What you hear when Zsa Zsa Gabor curses you out

C)   The latest development in digital reading

D)   None of the above

E)   All of the above (including ‘None of the above’)

If you chose A, B, or D you are incorrect. If you chose E, you created an impossible paradox that threatens to shred the universe to tatters. But if you chose C, DING! DING! DING! You win a prize! Namely, I drop this tired ‘Multiple Choice’ format and just tell you what the heck a Vook is.

Well, the answer’s in the name: Video+Book=Vook. (The math checks out.) Clips of a few minutes in length are embedded into the text of an e-book to create a multimedia experience. The videos can accompany the text or advance the plot themselves, and they are produced exclusively for each title. Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is releasing four vooks (two nonfiction, two fiction) today for purchase online or for the iPhone. Atria has developed the project with the San Francisco-based startup that originally conceptualized the format, and it hopes the Vook will become the go-to medium for subway riders and waiting-room attendees everywhere. So how does it stack up: Is it Kindle or kindling? I took a test run.

On the positive side, the configuration feels intuitive and easy to use. You can just read, just watch, or read and watch simultaneously, a task that takes a bit of getting used to even for my YouTube-trained brain. The format definitely lends itself better to certain types of books than others. Probably the most effective of the four inaugural titles is Return to Beauty by aesthetician Narine Nikogosian, a straightforward how-to manual for making your own mango moisturizers, white bean and olive oil face masks, and prime rib au jus body scrubs. (All right, I made up that last one.) The video demonstrations that punctuate the manual seem pretty helpful, particularly on something as portable as an iPhone. And all that kitchen cosmetology really makes me think that this layout would be perfect for cookbooks (or cookvooks, if you will). An easily navigable Food Network right on your countertop. I could see instructional, or even self-help, vooks as a totally viable alternative to trying to re-tar your roof with a book in one hand, a laptop in the other, and a TiVo-ed This Old House playing somewhere downstairs.

Sadly, the fiction titles don’t work quite as well. The first, a Jude Deveraux romance set in 19th-century South Carolina, tries to use video clips to provide atmosphere, with fluttering shots of cernuous willows and Southern manses set to the book’s narration. But since the text was produced separately from the videos, the clips feel a little redundant and even distracting.

The other novella, a thriller by Richard Doetsch, does a better job at integrating the two media, and the video’s content actually advances the narrative. Unfortunately, the clips are still too few and far between (and at some points cheesier than a Wisconsin state fair) to make you feel like you are experiencing something especially different or revolutionary. It certainly has potential, but it also has a ways to go before realizing it on the fiction front.

Book purists — or even e-book purists if those exist yet — shouldn’t be afraid of the vook taking the place of their cherished texts anytime soon. Atria and Vook intend it not as a replacement for lying on the beach with a Crichton or a Patterson, but as an in-between option, for when your bus is stuck in traffic or your kid’s soccer game goes into overtime. However, its release poses an interesting question nonetheless: Is this the first hole in the dam for our traditional definition of what books are? Can a single medium continue to exist alone in this increasingly multimedia world, or will reading inevitably end up looking less like Gutenberg and more like Google?

What do you think?

Comments (24 total) Add your comment
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  • Ceballos

    Myabe it’s just me, but if I’m on a bus, and I’m stuck in traffic, I’m actually good with just a book instead of a “vook.” (Which sounds like something Dracula might read.)

  • Lisa Simpson

    I don’t think I have a problem with it for instructional books. Who hasn’t come across a step where you stop, hammer and/or whisk in hand, and think “what does that mean?”

    I’m more concerned about it with fiction works, mainly because writers are supposed to create atmosphere with their words working with the imagination of the reader, and this seems to make a detour around engaging that part of the brain.

    • Roshie

      That is exactly what I think. lol @ Ceballos for the Dracula reference.

    • PepeTheC

      Whisk and/or hammer?? That sounds like an exciting project!!

    • RP

      MTE. I said pretty much the exact same thing at the site I first read about this on.

      I’m not surprised to find that it didn’t work too well with the fiction titles. You almost never think, “Gee, I wish I knew what that looked like” with a well written piece of fiction. I think video might be easier to add to comics and graphic novels where it’s already half visual.

  • Mary Q. Contrary

    As long as they find people who want to buy it, its not a bad thing. But, I think I’ll stick with a good ole page-turner any day. Same goes for the Kindle.

  • JessiSmith

    I agree. My favorite part of reading a page turner is actually turning the pages. Plus, I work in front of a computer all day. I can’t read by staring at a digital screen.

    • cheshire

      exactly I strain my eyes enough in front of my laptop

      • Allie

        i’m the same way! when i use my computer for reading articles, i don’t read the whole thing, only the parts that i think are important. that’s what i did in high school for some of my information for papers. i would never read a whole book online because i wouldn’t even read the whole screen. i’m more able to get into the story with a book.

  • Georg Haller

    It is only digital text + video. Compilation. And a great advertising. Only. None – ebook. More money for Brad Inman. Only.
    Multimedia EBook – some other…
    For example: – http://www.eveda.org

    • Don Pedro

      yes! Realy!
      Multimedia EBook – some other…

  • Sue

    Part of the reason I love books is because they have no interruptions – or stupid videos/commercials if you will. Why would I want that to change? Have our attention spans decreased to such an extent that we can’t even read a few pages without having to go online for content?

  • angeline matson

    I wrote a book (yeah, who hasn’t) and would love my story to be enhanced with pictures of actual setting, casting ideas, soundtrack, etc. Sign me up, Vook. Ready & willing.

  • Your fourth grade teacher

    If you need all that stuff in your book, then you are probably a lousy writer.

    • Georg Haller

      If you not need all that stuff in your book, then you are probably a lousy user (loser).

  • Bill

    Warning: Ads are coming to books (or vooks). It’s getting ever harder to find a corner of human existence that isn’t commercialized to the extreme. No doubt the vook will include advertising in the clips, eventually,e.g., “THE REST OF YOUR BOOK WILL APPEAR IN 30 SECONDS…”

    • RP

      If and when that happens it will mean the death of books because people are not going to buy books just to be advertised at. Books are not like television where you pay a cable/satellite company for the signal and the TV studios get paid with ads or even like the Internet where you pay the ISP for access and the people with web sites get paid with ads. When you buy a book the people producing the content get paid, end of story. There’s no one else who needs to get paid in that scenario so why should I pay to see ads?

  • Allie

    oh great another kindle, but with video! i would hate those adds that come up, and like someone said, you don’t get any commercial interruptions when reading an actual book.

  • Lynelle

    This is EXACTLY what I need to produce a book I have been wanting to write and video I have been wanting to make–melding the two into a more useful product. I am so excited! This is indeed the best method for “How To” books to get their message across, and especially for mine. I see ALOT of possibilities here.

  • Derek McCumber

    The sad fact is that it would only be small matter of time before advertisements were added to these “vooks”. Yet another cheap gimmick for the ADD plagued, functionally illiterate masses. I’ll never have to upgrade my books, and they won’t be obsolete in 10 years. And if I want video, I’ll watch the dumbed-down, inferior movie adaptation.

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