Friday, 9 September 2011

Wired for Sound

The Truth about Celia Frost author, Paula Rawsthorne, asks will soundtracks on our ebooks enhance our reading experience?

I’ve been fascinated about the recent release by Booktrack of certain ebooks with added, synchronized sounds that hope to “dramatically boost the reader’s imagination and engagement”  (quote from Booktrack’s website).  These soundtracks include ambient music and sound effects such as rotating helicopter blades, creaking doors, lashing rain-whatever detail is chosen from the text.

Booktrack, have only released a very limited range of soundtrack ebooks so far, but their first efforts seem to be concentrated on the Young Adult market.  I presume this is because they think that teenagers need the added stimulation of music and sound effects as they read, because they haven’t got the capacity to conjure up the world of the story in their imagination.   Or maybe it’s because the company reckon that young people are growing up in an environment where they are plugged into a virtual world provided by game consoles and the internet, which makes them reliant on being spoon fed images, sights and sounds.  Therefore, just plain reading a story is not enough to hold their attention.

I wish they had more faith in teenagers and in readers in general.  We already have audio books and radio plays and I can see how, this medium might be enhanced by well chosen music and sparingly employed sound effects.  However, I have seen and listened to short samples of the new Booktrack releases and, for me, the soundtrack was intrusive, distracting and rather than enhancing my reading experience it felt that I was battling against noise pollution.

To be fair the ebook reader is in complete control of the soundtrack so it can be turned off and the soundtrack can, cleverly, keep pace with your reading speed, so shouldn’t drive you mad in that respect.  It will be interesting to see if this concept does take off with readers, teen and adult (short stories by Salman Rushdie will soon be getting the soundtrack treatment). 

You could argue that any new angle that might get more teens reading is to be applauded.  However,  I think that I’ll be keeping faith in young people’s ability to let their imaginations be fired up by the words on the page, alone.

What do you think about ebooks with soundtracks?       


  1. I can think of nothing worse. I have never been able to read with sound on of any kind. I read exactly to sink into that reader silence which nothing else can match. Interesting post, many thanks Paula.

  2. The CD's that come with picture books have music and sound effects, but I find that it doesn't fit what I had in my head, so I think I would find a soundtrack really annoying. I hope it doesn't take off.

  3. I can pretty much read anywhere because when I was growing up there was rarely any quiet to be found! But ebooks with sound tracks? Definitely not for me. I'm not entirely sure it'll catch on with teens or young adults either, or at least I hope it doesn't. Books coupled with an imagination have always been more than enough.

  4. I think I would have to try it before I was able to comment properly, but I find the idea of ambient music very interesting - waves crashing, wind in the grass etc. Many teens are plugged into ipods most of the time anyway, even when reading, so this may not be as disruptive as it may first seem, if done well and effectively.