Friday, April 17, 2009

Return of the storyteller

The tradition is storytelling has always been oral. The best stories are told and heard on grand pa's or grand ma's laps or around a bonfire on cold nights.

Then came books. Books are essentially containers that preserve stories. Books let the storyteller conquer space (people across the globe can read the story) and time (they can read it whenever they want - even after the story-teller is dead). So books are good.

But books are not a patch on the oral tradition. Books take away the emotion that storyteller brings to storytelling. So one has to imagine emotions as one reads. But then we can't have J K Rowling visiting every house to tell her story. That would be fun but not practical.

I am listening to Ayn Rand's Fountainhead. Yes, that is not a typo. I am indeed listening. It is an audio-book. And I am thrilled. This is a first for me (I am old and I have inertia. It takes me a while to try out something new). And I am wondering, why hasn't the audio-books blown away the book industry? Audio-books are the nearest thing to a traditional storytelling! Audio-books are the best of both worlds. It is oral, and the digitally preserved sound conquers space and time. Audio-books cannot replace text books (I cannot imagine a audio-book on a medical tome) but they can replace fiction books completely.

Audio-books can be far more profitable than paper books. With Internet and iPods production and delivery costs come down drastically. Why then have the audio-books not caught on as it should? By now, we should have seen a shrinking paper book industry.

Here's a free valuable innovation for the Apple Inc. (or Amazon, Kindle can be used typo read and listen). How about a digital bookmarking feature? As I listen to an audio-book, I should be able to go click-click-click, placing a digital bookmark on passages that I enjoy. I can then easily locate and revisit these passages after I finish listening once.

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