The following guest post is by Andrew Ferrier, who has held director and executive positions for large multinationals, working in Canada, the United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Mexico. He is currently the Chair of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, New Zealand's international business development agency, and runs his own investment company.
At last year's Frankfurt Book Fair, the opportunity (and threat) offered by e-books was a hot topic. As publishers face increased competition from entertainment categories such as movies, games and TV, they are constantly looking for ways to generate revenue through e-books, and to enrich the experience.
One company has created its own category that supports this goal - Booktrack. This two-year-old, New Zealand-based company has redefined reading in its traditional sense by synchronizing sound to reading in much the same way that movies synchronize sound to images. For example, if you are reading the Booktrack version of Romeo and Juliet and 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.
As you can imagine, there is a fine line between immersive and distracting when adding a sensory experience into the reading mix. Co-founder and CEO Paul Cameron's largest operational challenge to-date has been to figure out how to offer customers a personalized reading experience when everybody reads at a different speed - there is nothing more distracting than hearing waves crashing when you are reading that the protagonist is back on dry land. Cameron notes that he and his co-founder, his brother Mark, had to shelve their idea for a few years while the technology caught up.
The introduction of the iPad and its advanced technology made their vision a reality. Paul also attributes the close-knit technology and creative sector in New Zealand to its success: Booktrack's sound producers are from Park Road Post Productions, who were on the award-winning audio team for the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. As they faced skepticism that the technology would work, Paul credits the Kiwi attitude of anything is possible, which draws on the country's tendency toward both optimism and problem-solving-as keeping the development team on target.
With investments to the tune of $4 million from Facebook's director of global creative solutions, Mark D'Arcy, among others, Booktrack has been busy growing its B2C and B2B customer bases. Currently, Booktrack has featured as one of the top three ranked apps in the Book category on the Apple App Store and has been a top 10 book app in 20 countries. On the B2B side, Booktrack has been helping e-book retailers and publishers reinvigorate backlist sales and monetize royalty free sales.
Booktrack's publishing partners include Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Random House, HarperCollins and Thomas Nelson. The next endeavor is to look for new ways to scale the business, a necessary process for all entrepreneurs. To that end, Paul's plan for growth is to build a community of content developers where anyone can leverage Booktrack's software and audio library to create a soundtrack to their own proprietary work, including white papers, blogs, best sellers, you name it. Booktrack's foray into this new direction was developing the first crowd-sourced eBook soundtrack with Indaba Music.
With the National Endowment for the Arts reporting 33% of high school - and 42% of college-students - never read a book after graduation, it is critical that publishers look to enhanced reading experiences to compete in our multimedia world (see Paul's TEDx talk). Who knows, maybe all future content will be accompanied by a soundtrack in a similar way that all content now is available to be shared via social media? Cue the Star Wars Theme Music ...