Kiwis launch 'world-first' e-book app

WILLIAM MACE
Last updated 05:00 26/08/2011

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It was the kind of lightning bolt idea that technology entrepreneurs drool over: a gap in the market that could create a whole new genre of mobile entertainment with the programming of an 'app'.

Originally from Wellington, Mark Cameron's idea of "a soundtrack for a book" came to him while listening to music and reading an e-book aboard his regular commuter ferry in Hong Kong in 2008.

The random mesh of music and text provided an "unbelievable" experience said Cameron, and he and his brother Paul set about creating a way to properly synch the elements.

Three years later the result is Booktrack: a "world-first technology" synchronising music, sound effects and ambient audio to the text of electronic books.

The programme measures the user's reading speed through an initial test which then allows the pre-recorded sound effects to trigger as the reader progresses through the e-book.

The Cameron brothers officially launched the technology in New York yesterday and it's already available on the Apple App store where a free sampler - a chapter of Sherlock Holmes - has made it to sixth on the list of most popular e-Reader apps.

But it was the involvement of Kiwi entrepreneur and The Hyperfactory chief executive Derek Handley late last year that brought the Camerons' dream to the United States market and to an investment from American internet billionaire Peter Thiel.

The PayPal founder and early Facebook investor has lent an undisclosed amount to the start-up as lead investor and his name has guaranteed plenty of attention in the US market.

Prior to the launch event the founders told BusinessDay from New York that they had high hopes for the potential market once readers got a first-hand taste of the technology.

Paul Cameron said Booktrack was perfect for the commuter market in such places as the New York subway, where readers often complement their reading with unrelated music.

However online reaction to the technology has been mixed, with a review on Wired.com listing it under the headline "Bad Ideas" and saying the sound effects and the moving cursor distract the reader from getting into the book.

New Zealand Book Council chief executive Noel Murphy hadn't yet tried the technology first-hand but said Booktrack wouldn't appeal to him, ''but other people read in very different ways.

''Reading is really the crucial element in this - the format of the book is a pretty moveable feast these days - there is some evidence to show that e-reading is helping to pick up readers and that's always a good thing.

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"I think that publishing has done the same thing for a long time and it's quite interesting that with these digital innovations people are trying to think outside the box and try something different, so I applaud them for that."

Paul Cameron said the "end-game" would see Booktrack used as the standard soundtrack software across publishers, retailers, devices and operating systems.

"What were looking to do is set the standard in the marketplace, so if anybody wants to put a soundtrack to their book then they'll do it the Booktrack way because it's going to be easy to do, there are low barriers to entry and it's going to be accepted across the marketplace."

He said access to Booktrack via Google's open-source Android mobile operating system would be available later this year, and would let a wider market sample the soundtracked books.

Booktracks for classics such as Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice and Romeo and Juliet are currently available from the Apple App Store for iPad, iPhone and iPod.

The sequel to James Frey's novel-turned-film blockbuster "I am Number Four", called "The Power of Six" will also be available with a Booktrack when released in New Zealand next week.

Music and effects for ''The Power of Six'' were produced by Wellington's Park Road Post Production.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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