The Wave of Digital Creativity in Books

wave1I went to high school in Hawaii (I know.. a rough life) where I learned the joys and perils of body surfing. That experience is a great metaphor for the new “waves” of digital revolution we are seeing in the publishing world.

The key to great body surfing is waiting for the right wave and then time your push just right. The ride is exhilarating (I still remember riding inside the tube of a perfect wave off the beaches of Kauai). BUT if you catch the wrong wave or mistime the push, there is no ride. Or worse, catch a wave that throws you wildly into a bunch of rocks…

But unless you are in the water and making attempt after attempt you will never achieve the perfect ride.

I see this metaphor applied to the new world of digital publishing. It is really fun to play a small part, but even more fun to watch others be extremely creative in their experiments. There are some very bright and exciting people trying new things in merging the traditional book with all things “interactive.”

One well publicized idea is the Vook (video book). This concept blends text and video into one package. Priced very low ($6.99 direct or less via iTunes) Simon & Schuster is starting with two novelists and two non-fiction projects. The 90-Second Fitness Solution, for example, features 13 short videos and 11 text chapters to present a simple fitness program. You can either read/watch it on your computer or download on your iPhone or iTouch.

The idea is creative but sales will determine its long term viability, especially at the prices they are charging. I downloaded the above title and found it fascinating to be able to see exercises demonstrated in video instead of still pictures.

Of course my purchase will be added to their “sales numbers” which makes me wonder how many “test drive” sales are going to happen.

Note that the fiction titles are using recognizable authors. The stories are novellas, not full length novels. Text for the Jude Deveraux title is declared to be 130 pages long but also has 17 videos to accompany the story.

If you are a Simon & Schuster author, don’t expect them to convert your book just yet. Their Vooks are a division of the Atria Books imprint and will be highly selective on where and with whom they put their investment.

In late October 2009 Harper Collins put Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book Crush It into an $11.99 Vook (complete with 17 videos.) This article pulls back a bit of the curtain regarding the costs associated with the Vook.

The next idea is also fascinating. Level 26 by Anthony Zuicker (creator of CSI) with Duane Swierczynski. This serial-killer terror novel has the premise that murderers can be classified according to 25 levels of evil according to the FBI. But now there is one that tops all the others…a “Level 26” killer…the ultimate evil. Not a book I would recommend you read unless you love bloody horror novels or watch very disturbing movies.

What makes this novel different is that it is the first “Digi Novel.” You ask, “What is a Digi Novel?” Let me quote from the author’s description on

“…where the traditional story ends, a deeper level of immersion is available at, exclusively to readers of the book. About every twenty pages, you will have the option of logging in to experience a digital cyber-bridge—a three-minute motion picture scene with A-list actors you might’ve seen in blockbuster films and award winning TV shows. Before your eyes, the characters will spring to life, crime scene details will explode off the screen, and the Web site might even ask for a phone number—where the killer can reach you directly. You might call it CSI with an edge.”

I can’t even imagine the amount of money this cost to produce. But again, a very creative way to merge visual/digital interaction with a book.

Another is ScrollMotion’s Iceberg Reader. This is an iPhone app that began with traditional text (and was competing with the dozen other e-book reader software packages) but has recently expanded to include full color kids books. They have both a Curious George alphabet book and a James Patterson Daniel X graphic novel (plus others, of course).  There are lots of rumors about this expanding considerably if/when Apple’s tablet computer is launched. They are working with Hachette, HarperCollins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster, according to Publisher’s Weekly (August 24, 2009). From what I can tell this is one of the first e-book readers to fully incorporate color into the experience. But I have likely missed someone else’s software.

Last is a very creative use of the QR code (Quick Read Code). The square label looks a little like a Rorschach image. What makes these unusual is that with the right app on a phone you can take a picture of the image and it will then take your phone immediately to the web site embedded in the barcode. The QR technology is very big in Japan.qrcode - stevelaube

I used the QR-Code Generator to create this actual QR code…embedded in this image is the URL to my web site!  If you look closely you can see me waving back at you. Just kidding, but this is a real QR code. Create one of your own.

According to Publishers Weekly (September 21, 2009), what HarperCollins has done is to incorporate this technology into books for Teens like Lauren Conrad’s L.A. Candy. According to Carolyn Pittis, HarperColliins senior v-p, global marketing strategy and operations, “In addition to the codes on the Candy jacket, QR codes were featured on posters used at the book launch party, and HC did a cross-promotion with Mark Cosmetics on the Mark site that drove consumers to the site.”

HarperCollins is breaking ground with the use of this technology by putting the code into ads in the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal. Imagine clicking a photo of the code while reading the newspaper and being taken to a site that has a complete video of the information you are looking for…along with an ad to buy something.

By starting with the Teen market they are truly capturing the “cool factor.” The problem of course is explaining what it is and how to use it. We visually block out bar codes because they are so prevalent. My concern as a parent would be “Where is this publisher taking my child?” But that is a topic for another writer to tackle.

Look on the back cover of the new Super Freakonomics book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (published by William Morrow – a division of HarperCollins). You will see an OR Code and instructions on how to use it on your smartphone.

This must be what the music publishers felt like when the industry shifted from record albums to 8-Track to Cassette to Compact Disk to MP3 (and from record players to Walkman to Diskman to iPod) in less than 20 years. I hope to address some of the text based digital issues (Kindle vs. Sony vs. the world) in another blog, but for now, revel in the creative energy that is being expended to keep people reading and interacting with their books!

11 Responses to The Wave of Digital Creativity in Books

  1. Karen Robbins October 17, 2009 at 4:41 pm #

    I’m trying to picture all of this going on at a beach somewhere. Wonder what the vacationer will carry to the shore to read while lolling on the sand?

    The speed at which technology takes off sometimes is truly overwhelming.

  2. Rich Bullock October 17, 2009 at 10:19 pm #

    Good thoughts, Steve. Good to see some pubs waking up to the digital changes. As an avid ebook reader, this is an interesting topic for me.

  3. Ellie Kay October 18, 2009 at 11:07 am #

    This was an interesting blog, Steve. The analogy of the wave is perfect, the technology can just throw you to the rocks if you do not try to understand it and catch it just right.

  4. Marsha Crockett October 18, 2009 at 2:37 pm #

    Is it fair to say that publishers still need good authors even though the delivery, application and mobility of the product is changing? I guess any authors who get caught up in these publishing “experiments” simply need to have fun, hang on and ride it out.

  5. Lynnda Ell October 18, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

    My nine year-old granddaughter would rather watch a movie than to read. If the synergy between technologies can encourage her to read more, then bring it on! I want to see our love affair with well written stories continue into the next generation.

    Thanks, Steve, for the peek into the future.

    Be blessed,


  6. Lea Ann McCombs October 19, 2009 at 5:25 pm #

    It’s certainly going to take a new kind of thinking to reach this new generation of over-technologized(?) kids. I’m impressed with how fast these companies are keeping up and we’ll never know how well one idea works over another until all the stats are in.

    I still prefer good old hardback books with actual paper and print. Leave the action heros for the theatres.

  7. Lynn Rush October 20, 2009 at 7:52 am #

    Interesting post. The analogy of the wave seems to fit very well.

  8. Sharon Ball October 22, 2009 at 6:59 am #

    I’ve heard about the vook, but I haven’t heard about the QR-code. It’s amazing how rapidly technology is changing the way we receive and interact with printed material. I’m glad I stopped by your blog today to get the scoop on the latest and greatest.

  9. Lenore Buth November 1, 2009 at 9:21 pm #

    Your wave anology fits perfectly, Steve. Sometimes I feel I’m drowning in the constant procession of technology innovations. Anyone else ever feel that way?

  10. M.W.counts December 7, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    If you do the math, the device is expensive, books are slightly discounted, newspapers a bit more so, but in the end, with a cold, rational look, you can’t really justify the expense. That’s what I figured and decided in a moment of “irrational exuberance” to buy one nonetheless. I’ve had it for only 2 days but I can say that, from a reading standpoint, it’s a transformative experience. The device and the store are designed well-enough that they are likely to make you read more because it’s so easy to sample no matter where you are.

    I grew up a strong reader and have regarded to this day books as objects that border on the sacred, holding knowledge, opening the gates of imagination. In a way, the kindle is the rise of the profane. The “object” book loses its status, disappears to let the contents appear. While the screen could be bigger and the refresh rate faster, it’s already feels like a taste of what reading will be about in 10 years.

    Back to more earthly matters, things I don’t like about the kindle are the fact that you essentially lease books, and that, 3 years from now, the device will be utterly obsolete. Still a trend is started and it’s an exciting one.

  11. OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU June 28, 2020 at 12:53 am #

    Hi Steve,

    This got me laughing! I looked hard at the QR code to see if I could find you waving back at me but when I could not, I gave up and continued reading the blog. The next sentence I read was – ‘ Just kidding…’. Ha! Ha! Ha!

    Now I am going back to read other people’s comments and find out if anyone else was fooled like me.

    Other than this, it was a great read going back down the years to the start of digital and technology impacts in the publishing and writing industry. Something like the Revelation of prophecies for the future like in the bible!
    Taking risks, starting something new , our small beginnings, etc are in God’s hands for our success in the future.
    Remain blessed.

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