Byook Enhanced eBooks Review

Various developers have been trying since the original iPad to make enhanced and video eBooks a success. There seems to be this impression that books+tablet+video=profit! Yet plain old eBooks have managed to hold their ground quite nicely, leaving the question of whether there’s really a market for a book with video, music, and other bells and whistles. Byook think they can add to the eBook reading experience, and I had the opportunity to test a few of their titles and experience the multimedia eBook for myself!

My first Byook was Sherlock Holmes “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”. The Byook has music and accompanying artwork that adds to the atmosphere of mystery in the story, but one thing I appreciated was that the actual words appeared right away, and any multimedia touches faded in and out of the background. If you’re a fast reader and you don’t care for some of the artwork, you can continue to flip pages and are not forced to wait for every doodle to appear. The music acted just like it would in a movie or show; as the action peaked, so did the background soundtrack. While it was jarring at first, it did seem to fade into the background as I became more focused on the book. It also worked better when I turned the lights out while reading. Even though I read “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” years ago, there was just the slightest sliver of creepiness that slipped in from reading it in a dark room with forboding music playing. The background art fading in and out added to the creepy factor as well, so in that sense the Byook accomplished it’s goals, as the reading experience was definitely enhanced.

Then I tried “Tara Duncan”, a Byook for the iPhone. It was a poor experience from the start-while the Sherlock Holmes book loaded quickly, this one took so long I honestly thought it froze my iPhone 4S. Then I read the story, and wished my iPhone had frozen. It was a fairly juvenile tale, and if I had read it in an anthology of fantasy tales aimed at pre-teens I wouldn’t be so harsh. But as an enhanced eBook that costs $2.99, PLUS “bonus features” that cost between $0.99 and $1.99, it’s pretty awful. The musical cues and additions that made Sherlock Holmes atmospheric and fun just felt jarring here. And there were multiple pages where the prior page’s passage was simply repeated with a new image, making the reading experience very redundant. If I hadn’t read the Sherlock Holmes title first I don’t think I would have wanted to try it after the “Tara Duncan” book.

Overall, the Byook experience hasn’t totally sold me on the value of a regular book with a soundtrack and animation reel. I could see the benefit of a classic like Sherlock Holmes getting the enhanced treatment, as it was a fun read in the dark, and it could make for a fun parent/child reading experience. But the blatant cash grab of the “Tara Duncan” title (really, “bonus” material for a short story-bringing the total cost of the title from $2.99 to almost $6?) left me with a bad taste in my mouth. If Byook pursues apps like the Sherlock Holmes one, I think there’s a market for it. But it needs to be applied to stories worth reading, and the whole cost needs to be rolled into the price of the book. Otherwise, it will just end up being another footnote in eBook history.

MSRP: Sherlock Holmes “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” for the iPad is $1.99./”Tara Duncan” for the iPhone is $2.99.

What I liked: Proper match of books and music enhances the experience; artwork was well designed; animation was smooth

What Needs Improvement: Poor integration of music and book can drag down the experience; “bonus” materials feel like a rip off; enjoyment of books+music+animation varies wildly and may not be your taste.


Categories: eBooks, Reviews


2 replies

  1. I think the problem is often that the “enhanced book” folks are enhancing the wrong things. When I’m reading a book, I don’t want a sound track and video clips unless they’re directly related to what I’m reading, and then I only want to see them at my command, rather than integrated into the story. I think people still like to read, honestly, and a lot of the stuff people are using to “enhance” the book experience is going in the wrong direction.

    The Sherlock Holmes stories are perfect for enhancement, but what is needed I think is digital annotation. Links to unusual or Victorian words; expanding definition boxes that describe the various maladies; ways to pull up maps of the locations; links to video clips that show street scenes related to the current story; 360 pannable images of Holmes and Watson’s rooms; links to short capsule histories of things like the second Afghan war, or the battle of Maiwand in which Watson was wounded. Things like that. You could do worse than simply take one of the many excellent annotations of Sherlock Holmes and transition that into electronic format.

    (I also think the Talmud is basically made for turning into a hyperlinked “enhanced book”. But I digress.)

    But anyway, this soundtrack and film clip thing I don’t think works very well. The Vooks aren’t particularly successful, and the Byook doesn’t seem so either by your description. I’m still waiting for someone to do it right. For a good example of an enhanced book, check out TouchPress’ Shakespeare Sonnets; now that’s a good job! (I keep hoping the TouchPress folks will do the Sherlock Holmes stories.)

    That’s what ol’ Doug thinks, anyway.

  2. I have also read byook’s enhanced books and quite agree with you. I truly enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes experience, but not so much the Tara Duncan.
    To be fair with byook, Tara Duncan really seems to be a story for kids, whereas the S.Holmes can be read at any age and the Little Fear (which you don’t refer to, although it is free) clearly is for young adults.

    Whether I liked the story or not, I have to recognize a real quality in illustrations, sound effects and production in general.

    As you said, just put on your headset and enjoy the experience. I don’t believe that hardcore book fans will get crazy about these new “reading experiences” , but for people who only rarely read, byooks offers a quite nice format to enjoy a bit of reading.

    As to the price: less than $3 is too high for you?! I have no idea how many people have worked on each of these enhanced book, but let’s be fair, $3 does not seem to be too expensive for a +/-45mn reading experience.