Booktrack and Should We Listen to Music While Reading?

booktrackBooktrack, which creates movie soundtrack-like playlists to listen to while reading ebooks, made recent news for raising a sizable $5 million in funding (via Digital Book World, “Booktrack Gets Another $5 Million to Add Soundtracks to Books“). With 15,000 tracks and a couple of million users, it’s one of the bigger book startups I’d heard about recently.

The more interesting part to me was Booktrack Classroom, which has gained quite a great deal of traction. From TechCrunch (“Booktrack Pulls In Another $5 Million To Put Audio To E-Books“):

The real value of Booktrack, which seems a bit intrusive and unnecessary to readers who prefer to use their imagination, may be in the classroom. Cameron says that students reading with bookracks read for 30 percent longer, on average, and score 17 percent higher on reading comprehension tests.

Currently, over 12,000 schools worldwide subscribe to Booktrack Classroom, which lets students access existing booktracks, as well as create their own.”

Opinions seem decidedly mixed on the effect of music listening and learning. The late and great Clifford Nass opined that it probably doesn’t help, while at least one article from Johns Hopkins University School of Education suggests that it might, in the right contexts. Anyone that has been in a college library in the past ten years probably knows how ubiquitous earphones have become — everybody does it. Hey, I do it. Although, I probably prefer no lyrics if I’m trying to really concentrate. The Guardian (“Drowned in sound: can reading and music ever go together?“) is pretty close to my philosophy on this topic.

Anyway, back to Booktrack:TechCrunch (“Booktrack: Just A Horrible Idea. Really Horrible“) wrote about this one awhile ago, but gosh, it’s hard to tell how they feel about the whole thing:

“It, hopefully, goes without saying (not least because so many people have already said it) that Booktrack is a laughably stupid idea. The whole point of reading fiction is to remove the reader from reality — for the physical book to drop away and the sights, sounds and smells of the story to play out in the mind. As such, soundtracks and animated arrows urging you to read at a fixed (“it’s adjustable!” the PR will be yelling at this point) pace are an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction.”

Can’t fault TechCrunch for not taking a strong stance at least. The key point, however is the awkward-fitting situation between innovation, books, tech companies, and publishing:

“But the key to all of these innovations is that they were made by people who understand books, and how people read them.

reading and music listeningIt’s no coincidence that the Kindle was developed by a bookseller rather than a technology company. The Kindle is a reader’s device — for all the bells and whistles, the reason why it has blown competitors out of the water is that it goes as near to replicating the traditional feel of reading as is currently possible on an electronic device. Interactive books on the iPad are fun and all that, but we shouldn’t pretend that they’re books, any more than CDROM encyclopedias were books. The companies who enjoy the most success in revolutionizing the book industry (as opposed to simply creating a totally new medium) will be those that disrupt the publishing process, the writing process, the distribution process — but leave the actual reading process the hell alone.”

I could almost see instances in which a page-turning thriller could benefit from some music (not as sold on the whole sound effects thing) — but is this a good thing, or a bad thing for the experience of reading?

For those of us that read in public places with enough noise already, ebooks with synced music could hold some amount of appeal. I’m not 100% sold on the entire concept, but it’s nevertheless one of the more interesting and different ideas for enhanced ebooks in the past few years.