Now that e-books are here, many people are reading on tablets that are fully capable of producing sound. And at least one company out there provides the ability to create soundtracks and sound effects for books that sync with the written text.
I’m sure the purists out there are preemptively plugging their ears, but I think it’s actually a pretty interesting idea. After all, William Faulkner wanted to write The Sound and the Fury with different colors of text (a cost-prohibitive idea at the time), who’s to say that other writers of yore wouldn’t have found some interesting ways to make sound effect come alive? And, of course, audio books have already existed for some time.
What say you? Interesting idea or does it stop being a book?
Art: “The Edison Phonograph” promotional postcard
Alex Villasante says
It is an interesting idea, but it would depend very much on the book and how the sound was incorporated. I listen to a lot of audiobooks – which often have musical cues incorporated. In THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater, I think it worked beautifully because it came in at the beginning and end without intruding on the narrative. It was also a point of interest that the author wrote and played the music herself. But when I listened to THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by Holly Black, the musical parts that came in and out of the narrative really annoyed me – as if they were trying to heighten the suspense with sound, when the writing was already doing that very well on its own. One more example. In the audiobook for IF I STAY by Gayle Foreman, the main character is a musician and music plays a part in the plot – so hearing that music makes sense. So, I guess I could see sound being used in ebooks, but only when it serves the story.
Misses E. says
It's an interesting idea, but as both a musician and someone with dyslexia, I have to say it could be extremely distracting. Lord knows I have a next to impossible time reading when distracted.
There's a reason music teachers often compare the structure of musical phrases to sentences. They carry out an idea and have the same type of rise and fall as speech. For some people, getting caught up in following the structure and flow of a musical score is instinctive. Then there's the issue of people reading at different rates. It just seems like timing could become a nightmare.
My initial thought is this: why must we let technology do everything for us? It's like toys that have so many bells and whistles, they end up doing all the imagining for kids. One of the best things about reading books is letting your imagination fill in the blanks. After thinking about it more, I could see its use for some books, but if a book can't stand on its words alone, then I probably wouldn't be interested. That sounds really snobby…I don't mean for it to. I'm just a purist, I guess. Or maybe I am a snob, and I'm just in denial…
Mirka Breen says
I have *no doubt* this is coming shortly to EBooks. I'm surprised it's taken so long. Kids board books already had primitive versions of this (in novelty "press here" and "touch there" board books.)
Water Lily says
Why can't we provide our own mental sound effects just like we provide our own images while reading?
To answer your question: A big fat NO thank you.
Kelly Myers says
My main concern is "can I turn it off?" If I'm in a quiet place or trying not to disturb people, I definitely don't want it on. Personally, I already turn off sound on most games because it becomes irritating, so I probably wouldn't have it on regardless. If it's forced on me, I wouldn't buy the book — the same as I won't return to websites that auto-play audio/video.
Josin L. McQuein says
If I'm listening to an audiobook, it wouldn't bother me. That scenario is akin to an old radio program.
But sounds while reading? NOT A CHANCE.
Even if it became standard, I'd disable the feature.
Not sure about sound effects as such – sudden squeaks and bangs might be a bit distracting. However for the full book it might be a different thig. However we will be quietly launching the world's first e-books with fully synchronised, high quality audio in a few weeks. Audio syncing worked brilliantly for Faber & Faber's app version of the Wasteland.
Neurotic Workaholic says
I like audio books, but it's a different experience from reading a book. One thing I like about reading books is that I can use my own imagination; that is, I can imagine what the characters look and sound like. So I feel like the sound effects would take that part away from me; I'd rather just read books the old-fashioned way. (But I will admit that I have an e-reader, which is helpful because I've run out of room on my bookshelves.)
I think if I allow myself to think of a book in a non-traditional way, there could be some interesting things done with this. However, I don't really want other people inserting sounds or colors or things into what I'm reading. I want to hear the noises in my head in my way, not the way someone else thinks I should.
Further thought: if I know going in I'm getting a sort of 'multi-media experience' then I'm okay with it. But to me, reading is reading, I don't want to hear or smell or taste a book.
Karen A. Chase says
Maybe we could have moving pictures with them, too. With actors assigned to roles… Then the reader wouldn't need to imagine anything, you know, like a movie.
As much as I like the idea of a soundtrack of songs coming with a story, I have to say I like books as books with my imagination filling in everything the author both describes and leaves out.
Chris Bailey says
I prefer to read when I can, but I listen to audiobooks when I can't. My personal preference is to avoid audiobooks that strike me as overproduced. I can deal with a little music to indicate the beginning and end of a CD, but please give me a single reader, regardless of the number and gender of the characters.
However, the world is changing. Publishing books made of paper for people to read silently may become increasingly rare–like wine goblets made of silver. What will live on is STORY, however it's communicated. The marketplace will determine whether books with sound effects will earn a place, and that's the way it has to be.
G.P. Field says
What is a book?
To my mind a book is a lengthy piece of text in which the reader becomes immersed. Any piece of media that doesn't conform to that definition may well call itself a book, but in reality it's a multi-media product. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some book purist who can't deal with the idea of sounds and images embedded in ebook files, I just think it's important to make the distinction.
Perhaps an ebook in the future will have one single master switch, enabling the reader to either participate in the 'bells and whistles' or to disable them.
amber polo says
I'd hate it.
The few audiobooks that added sound effects just didn't work for me. Intrusive.
This idea is as bad as concept of the romance novel connected to a vibrator.
Having colored text for Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury would have been incredible. I wish he would have had his way.
DT Krippene says
Sound effects … hmmmmm. I spent many years in corporate America as a facilitator and participant in training programs. Background sounds were common.
I love the richness of a story read aloud. I don't think adding sound effects like the old 30's radio shows will enhance the experience.
Nadine Brandes says
I don't think it stops being a book, but it certainly changes the dynamics. Adding a soundtrack and sound effects make it seem more movie-like, so then when the book is a movie is the movie obligated to use the book soundtrack or write a new one?
To me, I think we'll continue to mesh different avenues of our senses until we just end up with a middle ground. This may be a bad example, but it makes me think of cell phones and computers. First, it was a wireless phone that then got mixed with an MP3 player, that then got mixed with data roaming and soon apps, etc. etc. etc. Now, phones are basically mini computers, as are iPads with one or two differences. It's breached the gap between phone and computer and come up with a middle ground.
That's something I think is inevitable with books, especially with the growing technology and our cravings for "New! New! New!" We'll end up with a middle ground and the purists will still exist with their "real books" and landlines (which is not a bad thing), but then those who are okay with the speedy progression we live in, will experience books in a different way that is not appealing to everyone, but provides a nice mixture.
Petrea Burchard says
As long as I can turn it off, it's fine. But as many have said, I like my mind (and the writing) to do that work for me.
Andron Ocean says
Erm, no — at least for fiction. I think the grandest thing about written fiction is the imaginative freedom it provides. NOTHING is given to you, except for this basic skeleton of the written text, on which you can hang whatever images, sounds, smells, feelings, tastes, or other senses you are inspired with. The moment some of that starts to be provided in the book, it lessens the overall impact possible. (One reason why illustrations can make or break a book.) Do too much, and it ceases to become literature, and morphs into some sort of mixed media experience.
I'm open to it.
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I've already done it! Years ago I produced two multimedia ebooks for YAs with music and one or two sound effects. They were on CD with animations as well. Well, admitedly, the second one, was never released…which I've always regretted. But I will go back one day. If done properly it can add so much ambiance. Can you imagine a night time scene with crickets and the occasional owl or a beach scene with the sound of the waves in the background? A storm with the sound of wind and rain? Image a Gothic style of story enhanced by creaking hinges and footsteps on floorboards, thunder, screams… . Or a fantasy story incorporating beautiful flourishes of harp and small tubular bells.
Lisa Lane says
I asked this very question to a group I belong to that is mainly comprised of visually impaired readers (and thus do most or all of their reading via audiobook). The consensus was a firm "no." They said it spoils the imagination aspect to reading, that they don't want someone else's idea of music or sound effects to spoil what would be their own interpretations.
I've enjoyed reading everyone's comments. I can totally appreciate where people are coming from and potentially saying this isn't for them, etc., but also seems it's easy to knock something without actually experiencing. I was talking with someone just this morning who was telling me the story of a friend of hers who was knocking dressing up for Halloween. Had he ever dressed up for Halloween and experienced the feeling from it? Turns out no. I used to knock dressing up for Halloween too and now I love it. Net-net, maybe stay open to new experiences until we try them, then comment. People said the same thing about adding sound to movies. I think I'll stay open to the concept until I've had a chance to try it for myself. Sounds intriguing.
Cecelia Dowdy says
Interesting idea, BUT, I don't want sound effects on my books. I'd rather read…read and imagine those sounds!
I love old-fashioned [and new-fashioned] books with pictures.
I don't see the difference, in essence, between picture illustration and sound illustration. Done right, it's a wonderful enrichment.
For my WIP, set in ancient Egypt, I would love illustrations, perhaps similar to the B/W line drawings in the margins of my Dover edition of Hiawatha. Instead of tomahawks and sacred pipes, you'd have a woman in a Nubian-style wig or someone plowing a field the old-fashioned way.
It would be wonderful to add calls of birds, etc. Imagination takes you so far, but is limited by your actual experience. Illustrations and sounds help give the background.
Bill Wilkinson says
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe there are a few CD versions of The Bible out there that boast a cast of thousands and loaded with music and sound effects. I know what sight you are referring to, Nathan, and it appears to be interesting. The problem would be that authors using this sight might overdo the sound effects and the music and thus ruin the ebook. For those purist that prefer to read without the music and sound effects, there is a mute button on the computer or just yank the sound output plug from the back of the computer.
Tess Cox says
My friend, Allison Flannery, just published a new children's book "In the Hall of the Mountain King" based on the play. The accompanying musical score by Greig is to be played as background music to "score" the story as it is being read, or even acted out, by the children listening. It's superb! AND, a dance company in Denver has decided to create a ballet from it to perform in schools across the State of Colorado.
From my perspective, I think scoring a story with background music is a fun idea.
Eh, sounds distracting. I can't write while music is playing. I doubt I'd want to read while music is playing either.
G. B. Miller says
It sounds doable, but I would think that the best thing would be to have just instrumentals that are tied in with the book genre (i.e. jazz with maybe a cozy mystery).
If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence. See the link below for more info.
What I'm not sure about is how the tablet will know when to play the sound. This may be because I've only ever used my mother's tablet, which is very basic, and I don't realize how tablets work. But it seems to me that since people read at different rates (anywhere from 100 words a minute to over 700) the tablet would have no way of making the noise independently of a reader hitting a button or something. In which case, I'd probably never do it just because if I'm really engrossed in my reading I'm not going to stop and hit a button just so I can listen to a sound effect.
Kelle Z Riley says
Reading and watching a movie are both ways of "experiencing" a story, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The addition of sound effects to books moves the reading experience one step closer to the "watching" experience. The success of it may hinge on being able to turn the sound on/off to suit individual tastes.
IMO the experience becomes less rich and satisfying as the content becomes more dictated by something other than my imagination. Still enjoyable, but less tailored to my needs and desires. . .
This discussion reminds me of the old question: which is better, the book or the movie?
Personally, I don't think printed books will die out any time soon. For the time being, at least, people still hold some sentimentality about physically holding a book, being able to smell the pages. My fear, though, is that over generations, e-books will become the norm. I worry that in my lifetime or beyond, people will lose their sentimental attachments to paper books and leave them in the dust.
On a different note, if anyone has a word of advice about the publishing world to offer, I'd be extremely grateful. I queried an agent about my novel, to which she responded with a request for a partial. I sent the partial that same day. According to this agent's website, she will respond to all requested submissions within 12 weeks. However, 12 weeks have come and gone, and I have yet to receive a response from her. Would it be out of line for me to email her, inquiring as to the status of my partial and/or her response?
Any and all help would be appreciated. I'm new to the publishing world, and I have a lot to learn.
not interested – this """sounds""" like a terrible idea. given the emphasis on finding and writing one's voice, it seems odd that the publishing industry would try to disrupt a reader's experience with distracting noise. more so, it's indicative of an industry that doesn't trust that readers are readers and appreciate the silent quality of books.
The Rodent says
I like to enjoy complete silence when I'm reading for pleasure; not even music, which is distracting. A book with sound effects is obviously still a "book", but I'll still turn off the sound when reading it.
sarah lee says
I really enjoyed reading your article. I found this as an informative and interesting post, so i think it is very useful and knowledgeable. I would like to thank you for the effort you have made in writing this article.
I am actually looking for a place now where I can publish animation with sound effects and songs. Any ideas please?