Would adding a soundtrack to e-books enhance the experience, or be too distracting? With $7 million in funding so far, investors are betting on the former
How about reading your favorite thriller with sounds of crashing waves and creaking doors that swell at dramatic moments? Can a movie-like sound experience transform reading?
Enter Booktrack, a New Zealand-based startup that aims to reinvent reading the way sound transformed silent films.
“Tens of millions of commuters around the world listen to a playlist that’s disconnected from what they’re reading, perhaps a sad song with an upbeat story. We wanted to change this, so we created Booktrack which offers a new content creation and distribution platform that turns reading into an immersive movie-like experience,” said Paul Cameron, CEO, Co-founder and Director of Booktrack.
Booktrack’s patented technology lets anyone add a synchronized movie-style soundtrack to an e-book or other digital text content, with the audio paced to each individual’s reading speed.
Imagine reading Romeo and Juliet where Juliet has just met her end in the Capulet tomb, you hear the fatal blow and then the orchestra starts at exactly the right moment to convey the tragedy of the scene and complement the text. This is how Booktrack wants to bring text alive.
Back in the 2000s, Hong Kong-based Mark Cameron, who is the Co-Founder and Director of Booktrack, used to read while commuting. Every day, he found it difficult to synchronize songs according to the story; this led him to create a movie-style soundtrack for e-books.
The co-founders also noticed that Stephenie Meyer, the author of Twilight, was blogging frequently about the songs she listened while writing various chapters of the book. The fans showed immense interest in listening to those songs only while reading the book. This incident made them believe that this idea had great potential.
“We wanted to create an experience of going to the movies while reading a story to yourself. We waited for some time and tested the prototype. By then, the iPad was launched and we had a belief that this product will revolutionize reading of e-books. Hence, I sold my military electronics software business and started working full-time to create Booktrack,” said Paul.
The startup raised some initial investment in 2010 and the product was launched in September 2011.
Were 45 titles enough to survive?
The product was launched in the market and the company produced 45 titles with top authors. But then the startup slowly realized that it can’t survive with just a few titles. It spent months on researching and testing various prototypes and finally came up with Booktrack Studio, a tool that enables any user to build synchronized movie-style soundtrack to digital content.
Using Booktrack Studio, anyone can bring digital text to life by adding a synchronized soundtrack from a database of more than 20,000 audio files. One can then publish the enriched content —whether a book, short story, screenplay, poetry, or travel blog — for anyone to read on the Booktrack Bookshelf. The audio plays in sync with the storyline paced at each individual’s reading speed.
“The free self-publishing platform is creating a new generation of e-readers by letting them hear the future of reading. The embedded audio experience allows authors to better connect and share their creative vision by including music that evokes a specific emotion or a sound effect that brings an imagined character to life,” Paul explained.
With the Booktrack Studio, a user can add, copy and paste any existing text directly into the editor, or start writing directly in the text editing tool.
The user can then choose from a library of thousands of audio files to add background music, ambient sound, and sound effects to the text. The third step is uploading a cover image for the completed text, adding metadata like genre and rating that helps users find the work, and share the finished Booktrack with the audience of readers.
Now a user can also embed the Booktrack code on their website for people to listen to the stories with a soundtrack. Since it is an open platform, users can report if there is any objectionable material and the company will take action.
“Today, there are two million users of Booktrack with more than 10,000 titles across 30 different languages. Our user growth has doubled every quarter. Half of our traffic is organic with people sharing their experience,” added Paul.
How can Booktrack impact the classroom?
The startup also has an education-focussed version of its platform called Booktrack Classroom. It is a new way for students to read stories and texts accompanied by a movie-style soundtrack that can increase reading comprehension and student enjoyment. Students create Booktracks, using their own writing or works being studied in school and share it, and teachers can also use the platform and have control over their classrooms. The platform has been adopted by more than 5,000 schools across the U.S. and New Zealand.
“Music drives the life of every teenager and they get engaged in creating a perfect soundtrack for their books. Sharing a creative piece with friends and getting good reviews is also a great encouragement for them,” said Paul.
A study published in March 2014, conducted by the University of Auckland on children aged between 10 to 14 years, showed that Booktrack readers not only demonstrated a nearly 20 percent increase in comprehension, but also spent significantly more time reading.
In a separate study by New York University, the subjects using the Booktrack software performed categorically better on information retention tests. Subjects reported that texts read with sound accompaniment were considerably more clear and easy to follow than identical texts read without sound.
Where is the moolah?
The startup has raised $7 million in funding till now from a range of investors including Peter Thiel, Co-Founder and former CEO of PayPal. After two months, it plans to introduce a revenue model where it will take 30 percent of every transaction that happens through the platform.
Aren’t the sound effects distracting?
Critics have argued that the sound effects can be slightly distracting but Paul believes that the soundtracks are very subtle and they don’t interrupt reading.
According to Paul, when e-books came, everybody started rolling out new enhancements such as videos and games but all of them failed. “The most powerful thing about reading is getting lost in the story, and all the enhancements today drags a reader out to watch a video or play a game thereby creating a distraction. Booktrack is the only enhancement to reading without creating a disconnect,” he added.
China and India are very important markets
The startup has a huge interest in expansion to Asia. It has also developed a team in Hong Kong and is in talks with potential partners. “We want to launch in China, but we have to change some of our technology to work with the Chinese characters. India is an important market for us because of the large base of English-speaking population and reading being very highly valued in the country.”
He explained that for both India and China, music is a big part of the culture, so the idea of Booktrack will resonate well with the audiences. The startup has also seen investor interest from Asia, particularly Hong Kong.
This post was originally published on e27.