A Look at BookTech: Booktrack

The book, as we know it, has been around for a very long time.

Here in the West we date printing from roughly 1440 when Gutenberg invented the printing press, however the Chinese invented movable clay type even earlier – in 1041. So that’s about 1000 years of print.

That long tradition of print on paper was broken long before the invention of the Kindle – think about reading, and writing, on personal computers – but mass market books that do not rely on paper most definitely date from the introduction of the Kindle.

None of this is news to us. One way or another, none of us would be self-publishing if not for the Kindle, and Amazon. But now that we’ve made the leap to non-paper books, we have to accept that the changes have only just begun. Print lasted for a thousand years. Ereaders are changing every year, and taking the whole idea of books along with them.

One new innovation I discovered recently is something called Booktrack. .

The video clip is a demo of how Booktrack works. The technology is still in its infancy, and currently only works for books you read in your Chrome browser, but Pandora’s Box has been opened, and the possibility of adding music, and sound effects to ebooks is now very real.

As someone who writes speculative fiction, the idea of Booktrack delighted me at first. In my head I pictured some reader thrilling to Two Steps From Hell as they read my sci-fi novel. What a great way to add extra emotional depth to my words!

But then I started having second thoughts. Epic, instrumental music makes me weep [in a good way], but country other kinds of music can literally make me cover my ears in pain. Clearly, good writing music is not necessarily the same as good reading music. But still…

To resolve this issue, I asked readers of my blog what they thought, and almost every single comment was negative. Most people said they preferred to read in peace and quiet. Some said that if they wanted a soundtrack they would watch a movie, or listen to their own music. Others queried more technical aspects, such as what would happen to the music if you went back to re-read a passage, or stopped to think about something you had read, etc. No one jumped up and down in excitement, not even my twenty-six year old daughter.

Nonetheless, something keeps me thinking about Booktrack, or at least technology like it. All of this stuff is new, just as moving pictures were once new. Back in the days of silent movies, no one could have predicted that the piano tinkling away in the background would one day become the precursor to the movie soundtracks we now take for granted.

Booktrack may not be the tech of the future, but I believe some other tech will be.

The book, as we know it, has been around for a very long time, but now the times are a-changing and we have to change with them, or at least keep an open mind.

Is there any tech you would like to see in books?

31 thoughts on “A Look at BookTech: Booktrack”

  1. Hey AC, Nicole from Booktrack here. I’d be keen to read one of your SF stories booktracked to see how it goes. I know my first reaction was “What a crazy idea!” but it’s amazing when you actually get into it – you really see the potential (I haven’t booktracked any of my own stories, but I’ve used Beowulf and H.G. Wells’ The Red Room from Gutenberg.org for my own experiments with the platform). It’d be awesome to see what people think of one of your stories set to a soundscape that you’ve personally created..

    1. There you go. Yes. Everything’s on the table, kinda like Thanksgiving dinner last night. So think, Guttenberg. He democratizes reading (sorta) in 15th century. By 1492, the New World opens. Fifty years later we get: the Renaissance, the Elizabethans, the Reformation. There’s more but that covers a lot: Art, Literature and Religion. Huge social change caused by ink and moveable type. And those ballistic changes occurred across a slow moving agrarian society on horseback. The digitization of and ink, moveable type, and other arts and all metaphysics moves (literally) at the speed of light. If Guttenberg changed art, literature and religions, what’s in store for humanity ported through the Internet. Everything. Anything. Yay! Best of luck to book track!

    2. Hi Nicole. 🙂 Great to have you join the discussion. I’d be very tempted to take you up on your offer except that I could never afford the music I want.

      I could find some royalty free music, but as Massimo said, it has to be the right music, and it has to be done by a professional.

      Music is a huge part of my life though so I hope that one day, when I’m rich and famous [har de har har] I’ll be able to meld Vokhtah with Two Steps From Hell. 🙂 And no, TSFH is not rock music but wild, passionate orchestral music.

      Would readers enjoy it though? I honestly don’t know.

      1. Thanks so much for your reply: It really drives home some of the points that we need to better communicate for authors: We actually supply the audio to a large degree: we have an audio library of over 20,000 files for you to choose from. We’ve licensed from a number of partners, all professional (among them we work with both independent professional composers as well as post production studios like Park Road who did the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit scores among other films). There’s a wide variety of music on the platform, but we’re also adding to it, and yes, you do also have the ability to upload your own audio if you need too too.

        As for readers enjoying it, I think that it really depends on the individual and the book. Some material definitely lends itself to Booktrack more readily: genres like horror, SF, tween/young adult – of course these are natural fits, but I think that if you have a play you’ll be surprised and you’ll start to see the creative possibilities of the platform.

        The ability for anyone to use Booktrack Studio is very much in its infancy – we just launched in September – so there are still improvements being made at a quite rapid pace. We’ll be rolling out the mobile app for readers in the new year, and we’ll also be marketing the platform quite extensively, so beyond the fact that it’s completely free to try out, I’m also proud to be a part of a company that is also such a great opportunity for authors from the exposure/audience standpoints.

  2. I see most of the things combining other media with “books” as being books for people who don’t like books. At least in fiction, much of the best stories happens in your head. You imagine the sights and sounds. That guy or girl with the sexy voice sounds exactly like what you imagine as a sexy voice, not what Yvonne, Nicole, or I imagine. I want to get lost in fiction and anything distracting from that is a negative, not a positive.

    Now with non-fiction, I see a lot of possibility for other media to add to the experience. For example, a friend of mine who is a well known music critic co-authored a book a few years ago listing the “Top 1,000 Country Singles of All Time.” (Only some country music makes me cover my ears in pain. 🙂 ) If he’d been able to have samples of the song being discussed playing in the background while I was reading that song’s entry, it would have added a lot to the experience. Of course, a lot of those kinds of uses have complications due to copyright and licensing issues. My specific example, for sure.

    1. Great point Al. I hadn’t even thought about non-fiction, but yes, snippets of animation [to illustrate a point] and snippets of music etc would be fantastic. After all, we already do masses of reading online, via our computers, and click on links to video clips or more detailed explanations etc. Why not have that capacity on a reading device as well?

  3. I think what has to be taken into consideration is that the present generation is more accustomed to multi-media entertainment. A soundtrack would not have to be obtrusive, anymore than the background music in a movie is obtrusive. It could help set the mood and further immerse the reader if it is done well.

    I see all kinds of potential here, and e-books will be able to take reading to the next level through means that are unobtainable to dead tree media.

    1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Your Nibs. Expectations are changing so rapidly, most of us mature types have little idea what the tweens and teens are up to any more. If the smartphone does take over from the dedicated ereader as the preferred device for reading and everything else, then this kind of tech could bring a whole new generation to books and reading.

  4. Last year I toyed with the idea of having animated scenes set to music throughout one of my books. I went with the scene idea when I discovered the cost of animation for the entire book. Whew! This would be over the top indulgent, however, I do believe that not too far in the future books will be mini movies.
    As a reader, I agree with Big Al that it happens in our heads, our imaginations can take us to so many places, and everyone sees things differently. Change is coming, it can’t be avoided and as part of the new writing culture we should at least be prepared to be open to fabulous possibilities. I’m not a gamer, but the technology is amazing. I believe there will be an audience for both the old and the new.

    1. “I believe there will be an audience for both the old and the new.”

      As I’ve been thinking about it that’s the conclusion I came to as well, Aron. If there is a market for it, then it is one more way for an author to get their work out there. Even though I’m not a fan of audiobooks, I understand how for certain people or situations they’re great. I guess this has the potential of drawing in a different group of people than the typical reader or capturing more of the entertainment time and dollar. I’ll have to ask my daughter and her husband what they think of it. While both avid readers, they also watch a lot of TV and movies, game play, etc. Maybe they’ll like this idea. :/

      1. I’m mature and old school. I never thought I’d ever be there. The younger generation absorbs differently than we do. We sip the fine wine, they chug(not all mind you). We have to be prepared for the change that we are part of, who knew e-books? Half the battle is learning the technology to understand it, the other, as Massimo stated is having the best people to apply it. It sure is an interesting ride.

  5. I think it can be a neat idea. Time ago I’ve read about another technology adventure to add—as someone mentioned—’emotional media’, a sound and a graphic to go with the scene. Personally, I found that distracting and ruin readers’ immersion in the story. But a ‘booktrack’… why not. If done well it could do marvel and the same book can be read with and without ‘booktrack’ enabled.

    It has to be done movie-style though, not adding music to every line of text, and you need an expert to do the work, with musical and theatrical expertise. An amateur (and even the author would be an amateur if s/he attempted to do it) would do too much and in the wrong places.

    May I offer my titles as experiment? They are already published by Sci-Fi Publishing, LCC as audiobooks. Maybe Booktrack, LCC could turn them into pilot projects 🙂

    1. Bravo, Massimo! A very important point about the need for quality. As authors we know words, but few of us would have the experience in music to DIY a soundtrack.

    2. Massimo, definitely. I would still encourage you to have a play with Booktrack Studio yourself as well. It’s very true that it is something where practice does make perfect, and the you see authors on our platform getting more and more skilled with each title that they create, but I’d encourage you to read Sue Copsey’s “The Ghosts of Young Nick’s Head” (you’ll need to be on a desktop/laptop and using Google Chrome, we’ll be expanding support shortly, including launching the mobile reader because as someone else noted it’s AMAZING how much reading now happens on mobile, our developers are flat tack pumping out the work!). This was her first attempt at Booktracking, and she actually just wrote a great article about it: http://www.literaryrambles.com/2013/11/tip-tuesday-175-sue-copsey-on-booktrack.html. Her Booktrack is here: http://cdn.booktrack.com/studio/index.html#!/bookshelf?booktrackId=07514bf5c9854c41b8db4258ba038a4c

        1. Hey AC, we always say “Google Chrome” because we’re trying to keep things as straight-forward as possible, but the reality is that it works perfectly on Opera as well! 🙂 Note that if you’re a Firefox user we’re making progress: reading now works but we’re still working on Booktrack Studio for creation. Safari on mac is a work-in-progress as well. IE is the really tough one: Microsoft sure don’t make it easy!

          The big push right now is getting the reader app for mobile out the door, which is a huge priority because of how many people read on tablets/mobiles.

  6. I can’t see this as an effective technology. How would it compensate for reading speed? Personal tastes? I prefer to use my imagination and read without distraction. If I want sound, I’ll switch on the television.

    1. I actually agree with you Kathy, but I believe the success of any soundtrack would depend on Massimo’s point about quality, and the ability to choose whether to listen to the soundtrack or not.

    2. Hi Kathy, readers use a slider to speed up or slow down to their reading pace. Because the audio is applied to-the-word (it’s akin to highlighting a line of text, and then having the music/ambient sound fade in and out exactly as you want it. I shared your exact opinion when I first heard about it, but it’s all-too-easy to dismiss something when you haven’t given it a try. I think you’ll be just as surprised as I was if you do.

  7. Copyright infringement is the first thing that came to my mind. That, and how much it would cost the author to secure the rights to the songs they wanted to use. We had a post not long ago about securing rights to a popular song — it ain’t cheap, and you’d need a whole bunch of them for a whole book.

    My kids multitask when they read, but I prefer peace and quiet. In fact, even when I’m reading in a noisy environment, I use reading to shut out the noise around me. So adding another layer of sound to cope with doesn’t really appeal to me. I can see how it would work for younger folks, however. And I’ve seen some authors publish suggested listening lists in their books. I guess it takes all kinds. 🙂 Thanks for the post, AC!

    1. The copyright/cost issue is what stops me from trying Booktrack out, but maybe in future that will not be such a stumbling block once the new generation[s] demand multimedia in their reading. Or, worst case scenario, the copyright owners get even greedier and gouge the life out of the whole concept. Only time will tell.

    2. Hey Lynne,

      While authors can choose to upload their own audio, it’s not required by any means. We supply a library of over 20,000 audio files to choose from, and we’ve taken care of all of the licensing and rights management for you. These files are all free to use, and they’re all professional and high-quality.

      I completely agree with you that it comes down to so many things: tastes, mood, environment – the interesting thing is that many people have commented to us that they most enjoy Booktracks when they’re not in a quiet environment (such as on a noisy bus during the daily community) because the sound “adds a bubble” around them, and because it’s tuned to the book, it makes more sense and is immerses them more fully into the story rather than being a distraction.


  8. Thanks for your brilliant comments everyone. Discussions like these illustrate just how much of a transition period we are in. Publishing isn’t the only area where technology has radically changed the way we view books. In one hundred years time, kids in school may view single media objects like books in the same way we would view the vellum scrolls hand written and hand illustrated by monks – as museum pieces.

    We live in interesting times. 🙂

  9. Hi everyone,

    I’d love to personally invite each of you to try out Booktrack and really take it for a spin. While we’ve been creating Booktracks in-house for the past couple of years and realising them as apps in September we launched Studio where any author can take their work and transform it into a booktrack with sound.

    Booktrack is completely free right now: free to create booktracks, free to add as much audio as you’d like. It’s also free for readers. In the near future we are planning to roll out the ability for you to sell the booktracks that you create.

    I know that promotion and marketing are on the top of your lists as authors, spreading the word about your book, and Booktrack is another great channel from this capacity. Over the coming months we’ll be marketing ourselves and so it’s a great chance to ‘get in on the ground floor’ and really take advantage of this (never knock coattail riding! ;)).

    Some authors publish their whole stories, while others just use Booktrack to publish excerpts, and yet others serialise, releasing chapter-by-chapter: It’s completely up to you to determine how you want to use the platform.

    If you have any feedback, suggestions for improvements, or run into difficulty don’t hesitate to email us at support@. We’re a small team but we make every effort to get back to tech issues ASAP, and we take all feedback on board. 🙂

    Thanks everyone! I hope to read some of your booktracks soon!


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