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Books with moving pictures and the possibility for reader interaction; books that seem to live and breathe as you read them; books that somehow straddle the line between the traditional reading experience and watching a movie or TV show on Netflix. It all sounds like something out of a Harry Potter book, but believe it or not, "motion books" are a thing. And if you ask Eugene Walden, the CTO of Madefire, motion book technology is going to be a vital element for publishers to adopt in the next 10 years or so.
Walden and Madefire, which is perhaps the most well-known motion book platform in the world right now, were recently profiled in a TechRepublic article and interview. In the article, Walden was quoted making the classic comparison between the music business and the publishing industry, saying that "publishers are at risk in the same way that record labels were at risk a decade ago." "The publishers who thrive will be the ones who manage to develop a relationship with their readers," Walden continued. Evidently, he is of the mind that simply pumping out great books won't be enough for a publisher to fortify those relationships.
On some level, Walden might be right. The people who grew up reading traditional books mostly have modest expectations of publishers. "Keep publishing good titles and I'll keep buying books, reading books, and sharing books with friends." It's the younger audiences, though, that have been more difficult for traditional publishers to capture and engage. With so many options for entertainment, kids and teenagers are perhaps less likely to pick up a book today than ever before.
So how can publishers build relationships with these younger audiences? Different publishers have tried a range of possible solutions to this conundrum, from book apps to personalized titles. The latter option has been a boon to numerous publishers, while the former remains a niche art at best and a failed one at worst. Still, to call either idea "the future of publishing" would be both inaccurate and hyberbolic.
It's probably also inaccurate and hyperbolic when TechRepublic calls motion books "the future of publishing." Like book apps, motion books are based at least partially around a gimmicky concept. The technology leans heavily on visuals and user interaction, meaning that it's by far best suited for illustrated titles. It goes without saying that picture books with moving illustrations would be fun for kids, but the current Madefire library actually consists mostly of comic books.
For instance, one of the top series on the website is Injustice: Gods Among Us, a DC Comics property featuring Superman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League. For this kind of title, it's tough to deny that motion books make for an optimal delivery method. Readers need to click arrows on the screen to "turn the page" and keep the story moving. In exchange, they will see new panels of each comic appear as if from nowhere, like the narrative is being illustrated as you read. As the pages turn, speech bubbles pop up to carry the dialogue, characters move, and the images come to life. Billed as "episodes," the individual issues featured on Madefire bring out the beauty of the comic book art.
Perhaps even cooler, Madefire offers a free "Motion Book Tool" that comic book publishers can use to turn their stationary titles into animated digital wonders. Plus, Madefire lets you publish your digital comics for free once you've converted them into motion books. It's a smart platform that publishers could use to get their illustrated titles some extra exposure. These factors are key for Madefire's shot at success, and probably for the potential of the motion books idea in general. Book apps never took off largely because they were so expensive to produce. By giving publishers a way to produce motion books at low cost or no cost, Madefire is giving itself a much better chance at reaching wide-scale publisher, author, and illustrator adoption.
The question is whether or not motion books could have any sort of advantage for novels, nonfiction, or more traditional text-based titles. Sure, Madefire expands the experience of reading comics to laptops, tablet and smartphone screens, and TVs—plus, at some point in the near future, virtual reality or augmented reality. But when there are no images to speak of, what's the benefit of animation and "motion" in books? What is the advantage of being able to read a novel on a TV screen or, god forbid, in virtual reality?
In the TechRepublic interview, Eugene Walden said that Madefire currently has "some very interesting concepts for innovating in the reading of text and non-visual storytelling." As for what those ideas are and how they could help publishers build relationships with readers, Walden was mostly mum. The article did make mention of "augmenting" text content "with images that highlight important words and phrases." But such a concept isn't exactly innovative and wouldn't exactly set the publishing world on fire. Walden and Madefire must have something else up their sleeves, but it also looks like we'll have to wait to find out what that might be.
What do you think of motion books? Are they the next great innovation for the publishing industry? Or do they merely constitute a cool technology that will probably never develop past a small niche? Share your viewpoints in the replies!
Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for IndependentPublisher.com, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.