02/21/2011 02:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The New Interactive Book: Not Just Your Old-Fashioned Videobook

Q&A with Joe Weber, CEO FlyingWord.

FlyingWord is creating a line of books that immerses the reader in a totally new experience. It's not a matter of adding video or audio streams, as on typical DVDs. FlyingWord takes a book and focuses on the beautiful nature of the story, the value of the education, and the nature of the illustrations, then extend them several steps further.

To get a sense of the reading experience, click to see the Treasure Island YouTube video. The experience includes Robert Louis Stevenson's fantastic book, a wonderful audiobook, and the first ever use of 3D illustrations, and physics interactions in a full-length novel. As the reader, you can move the device (via the accelerometer) or by swiping your finger across the multi-touch surface to look at the illustrations or objects from different angles. The system renders the 'video' on the fly. For instance, in Treasure Island, when the pirates are moving the casks of gunpowder, if a reader throws the gun powder cask too hard, it'll explode. As a result, the "video" doesn't stop at then end of that initial navigation. As a reader, you can move the image in 360 degrees. Treasure Island is being followed by a number of books that cross between children's books, young adult, and higher education.

FlyingWord was founded in mid 2010. The founding team represents experienced bestselling authors and technology leaders. Joe Weber, CEO, came to FlyingWord after running a large R&D team at Boston Scientific and before that had been a software engineering leader for several startups including Emageon, which went public in 2005. Richard Monson-Haefel is a renowned author with his bestselling book selling well over a half-million copies. He was an senior analyst with the Burton Group (Gartner's high-tech group) and was an SVP at a billion dollar company developing multi-touch software.

CEO Joe Weber was kind enough to provide information on his new company.

Q: What is your goal in creating interactive books?

A: Our goal is to create books that extend on the nature of the story or the lesson. So everything we do is designed to pull you through the story and make the story accessible. We want you to be in a state of 'flow' with the subject of the book. Video can do this in some situations; however, done poorly it'll actually drag you away from the story. There are times we include video for the better. For instance, having a video of a person demonstrate a cooking element, or how to perform a trick - video helps. If you think about what you see at for instance some of that is most appropriate for video. However, we believe that interactivity (kinetics) is much more fulfilling for individuals who are kinesthetic learners. Showing a video doesn't address their primary learning pathway - it's just motion visuals.

Q: What types of books are best to become video books?

A: If we are thinking about just video the best books in our opinion are where a close up demonstration can be helpful. It's also helpful when showing the emotions on a human face can add to the story.

In contrast, when (in my opinion) you look at books like Vook's Wizard of Oz the video is actually distracting. It ends up causing you to go away from the story and moving back and forth between being 'in flow' with the story and out to look at the video can be counterproductive. So my advice is that if you are using video, make sure it's part of the overall story or if it's not, include it as a set of 'extra's like you'd see on a DVD - other than 'director cuts' you rarely see them cramming those videos into the original movie - authors should be careful not to stumble into video just to have something.

Q: For those who have an ebook, what is the process for adding video and how long does it usually take?

This is a good question. There are a number of steps involved in adding video or 3D visuals and it depends on how much the author is able to create on their own. So in the simplest case, if a person already has an ePub book and they already have the video including the video is actually a pretty short process. Often what Vook does is take public domain video to fill this gap. Once you have the video add the ePub file it takes only a short while to open the ePub file include the simple video tags and bundle the video file into the ePub, then test it. However, your readers should know that only certain platforms support this video - iBooks and Kindle (and Kindle only on the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch) are the two most popular examples. The alternate way to deliver this media is via an App. For most people delivering an app book will involve contracting with a company like FlyingWord (or Vook). Our platforms are designed to take the video and include it into the book.

However, if you want to do video right what you really need to do is design what you want to happen in the video. (As I said, don't just include a fun video of a kid sticking a mentos in his nose unless that really adds to the story). That will involve writing the script and then shooting the video. Alternatively you can curate a video from any of the many sources on the Internet that have stock video. The creative process of getting the right video content can be very quick if you are a true subject matter expert and have the equipment to shoot the video, or it can take a very long time if you are doing it for the first time.

At FlyingWord, we do video like this, but we also leverage illustrations, paintings and drawings to create the kinesthetic environment. So, let's look at what FlyingWord does with illustrations: For us when there is an existing painting or illustration we take that illustration and through a set of technologies that we have developed we place that illustration into our brand new 3D environment. Since many authors and instructional design books already have a ton of illustrations this process can be much simpler than creating a video from scratch. Also, our 'sound track' is a rich audiobook version of the original book. Our process allows the text, audio, illustrations, and video all to be synchronized together. The result is that each element helps to bring you into the 'flow' of the story. In terms of the time involved in doing this: We don't yet license the platform we are developing as something an author/illustrator can do on their own. We take proposals from authors and companies. For those we accept, we work with the illustrator and/or author on a timeline which depends on the amount of interactivity we think will really help to tell the story or ensure readers understand the lesson.

Q: What advice would you give authors just starting to write a book and thinking about including video?

A: That's a great question! It really depends on the type of book /genre that they are writing for. My first advice to people when writing books is to clip a lot of links and illustration references that they think are part of their story. For a fantasy book, video is almost certainly not going to be as appropriate as working with illustrations because the cost of producing the video would be too expensive and really wouldn't help the story. However, if you are writing a cookbook and you are used to doing a video blog you may want to start thinking about what you would want to vlog. In fact, for some of these books the best way to include video is going to be to include a hyperlink to get the reader to a YouTube video. This cuts down on the size of the download for the book, and may be just as fulfilling to the overall experience of reading.

Q: Do you have a "case study" video book you produced now on the market--so readers can get an idea of what to expect in time and effort.

A: Sure, for two books that we have not yet released we included video in the iBooks and Kindle version of the books. For us creating the video was simply a matter of allowing our platform to 'render' the video the same as we do in an interactive App. Once our platform renders the video it takes us only a short while to tag the ePub documents to include the video and include the movie in the ePub zip file.

Q: What is the cost to add video and how does that impact the pricing of the ebook?

A: There are two different elements: including the video and creating the video in the first place. Often what Vook is doing is taking PD video and including that in a book. If you can find PD video that actually helps the book (such as a history of JFK) than that process works great and has minimal cost. However, you may want to shoot your own video that can be either done cheaply (as easy as your home flip camera set-up to videotape a close-up of you preparing food) or very complicated (take a professional videographer and 12 actors to perform a scene). Another way to produce the video that can be done fairly cheaply is to use machinama in 2nd life.

Q: What is your prediction about the future of video books?

A: We think the future of interactive books is going to be VERY bright, as much as a $2B industry by 2015. However we think video will only be a portion of that.

Q: What else should readers know about video books and FlyingWord?

A: FlyingWord is always looking for exciting material and partners. The eBook transition has allowed children to move from carrying a 20lb bag to school everyday to just a single iPad but the potential of the iPad, Color Nook, Kindle and all the other devices out there has only begun to be seen.

Our process is designed to produce our books for distribution on iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android and Color Nook. In addition, we have uniquely designed the platform so that we can 'gracefully degrade' the capabilities for a host of different readers such as Kindle, iBooks, and others. The result is that we are providing rich eBooks across a set of distribution channels that will maximize the royalty revenue for our partners.

Want to learn more? Check out FlyingWord at

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