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.
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.