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"The swing to digital reading could establish a lucrative software industry on the North Shore."

The Aucklander: 30 March, 2012

Booktrack deepens the plot

The swing to digital reading could establish a lucrative software industry on the North Shore.

That's the hope of the founders of Booktrack, brothers Mark and Paul Cameron, who have devised a much talked about application to complement the experience of reading a digital book.

Booktrack plays a cinematic soundtrack while you read your digital story - synchronising music, ambient noises and sound effects to match the storyline, and your reading speed. Tests show Booktrack improves the comprehension of what is read, meaning there could be educational benefits as well.

Milford resident Paul Cameron hopes the development of Booktrack will be done on the North Shore.

"But much work remains to make this a reality, not least the challenge of sourcing additional development capital," he admits, pointing out that he's already doing a lot of travelling to promote the software to overseas investors.

With around $3 billion in ebook sales annually, there's plenty of potential to add Booktrack soundtracks to more books. E-reader applications are hot, and Booktrack has attracted big publicity. There have been articles in the New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times and the Times of London. The Huffington Post called it "revolutionary".

Investors include Facebook director Mark D'Arcy, also a Kiwi, who believes Booktrack is the future of reading. He says Booktrack enhances the imagination by improving a person's ability to visualise the story described in the text.

"Booktrack gets you there quicker and keeps you there longer. It brings another immersive element to the experience - it doesn't detract from it."

Critics say it invades the sacred silence of the reading experience. But Paul points out: "When the 'talkies' were just getting started, theatre orchestras protested because they said they'd be put out of work and one of the Warner brothers said, 'Why the hell do we want actors to talk?'."

Paul, 35, came to the project already used to the challenges of marketing high-tech electronics; he'd been director of a successful North Shore-based defence company. The former RNZAF navigator and father of two, says business was booming when he astonished his partners by pulling out a few years ago.That decision was sparked by the 2010 release of Apple's iPad - something Paul and Mark had been waiting for.

"All of a sudden we had a platform which was going to be adopted on a large scale and it had about 1000 times the processing power we needed."

Mark, 39, who lives in Hong Kong, had the "Eureka moment" while reading a book on the ferry, back in 2008. As he read, a song regularly came up on his music player that seemed to complement the passage he was reading. Mark looked up and saw almost everyone on the ferry was reading while they listened to music and realised the potential for an app that could meld music with text to provide a deeper way for readers to experience their books.

Soon the brothers were working on the challenge in their spare time. So far, there are limited Booktrack books - another reason development capital is sought - but they include popular titles and classics out of copyright. There's an edition of Sherlock Holmes which has been downloaded through iTunes more than 100,000 times, and children's books like The Selfish Giant. Kiwi composer John Psathas has scored a Salman Rushdie book, recorded by the NZ Symphony Orchestra. You pay for the titles, but can try them free first and the app is free.

Paul says Booktrack creates opportunities for authors to write for a new group of readers, and for musicians to score republished books.

"Booktrack is so effective in education; it really helps to get young people reading," he says. "We're getting positive feedback from many parts of the world, and that's what my brother and I love to hear."