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Simon and Schuster launches video + books product, the vook

October 1, 2009 |  7:40 am

Today Simon and Schuster announced that it will integrate books with video by partnering with the Emeryville, Calif.-based company Vook. The new vooks, the company says in a press release, enable "readers to seamlessly read, watch, and enjoy both text and video at the same location on their screen." The vooks can be read/played on an iPhone or iPod touch, or in a Web-based viewer. And they've made a handy video to demonstrate:  

Of the four initial titles being offered as vooks, two are instructional -- "The 90-Second Fitness Solution" and "Return to Beauty: Old World Recipes for Radiant Skin." Adding video makes sense -- show me how to do push-ups the right way, or how to mix up a good facial mask. But they've gone and added novels to the mix.

This can't be good.

First, there's the strange flattening-out effect, in which a character that exists only in your imagination suddenly looks like someone, a specific actor-person. This is hard enough to make work in Oscar-worthy films, with extraordinarily talented, beautiful people stepping into the parts. But these aren't going to be Oscar-winners.

Which comes to the second problem: production quality. It takes a lot of people -- and money -- to make a good film. For a while now, publishers have been making book trailers, online video shorts that promote upcoming novels. On the whole, they're amateur: awkwardly lit, poorly acted, lousy costumes and sets, unevenly shot and roughly edited. Because publishers are in the business of making books, not videos.

Maybe vooks will be different. Maybe the company can execute higher-quality video content. Maybe they'll even use the video elements as part of telling the story, rather than illustrating it.

Or maybe they shouldn't mess with novels at all, and stick to instructional clips in how-to books. What do you think?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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