News Column

The New Review: Books: THE NEW READING: Ebooks, Kindles and the web: Musicians' memoirs and the 'enhanced' ebook

May 4, 2014

James Bridle



A slew of recent music books has resuscitated the old notion of the "enhanced" ebook. From Graham Nash's Wild Tales and Neil Young's Waging Heavy Peace to Dolly Parton's superior Dream More (based on her rip-roaring commencement speech for the University of Tennessee in 2009), these books come with much-trumpeted multimedia content: "exclusive" images, and videos of interviews and performances. Nash's memoir, for example, includes audio clips of more than 20 songs he has written or recorded and which are discussed in the text, alongside 11 photos, and four videos.

What's slightly strange about these offerings is that they beg the question of what "enhancement" actually means. After all, in a conventional biography you would expect the inclusion of photographs from the author's life to be a basic requirement not a paid-for "extra". Another problem is that most of these features are platform-limited: you can't access them in simple e-readers or generic reading apps as they require specialist software or hardware capabilities - your Kindle or Kobo won't cut it.

Far more interesting are the playlists put together by official editors or unofficial fans on music streaming sites such as Spotify and Rdio. A text such as Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise, a history of 20th century avant-garde music, is perfect for such treatment, and a quick web search turns up chapter-by-chapter playlists containing many of the works mentioned in the book - many of which would be hard to find in record stores, and unlicensable by a publisher for an enhanced book.

As ever, the best thing about the electronic book is its network, and the fact that it lives happily alongside other forms of media and distribution, without having to pack them all into one unwieldy package.

Oh, and Dolly's commencement speech is on YouTube, by the way.

Graham Nash's Wild Tales is available as an 'enhanced' ebook - but are digital extras really worth the investment?



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Source: Observer (UK)