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Music: The Next Step in the E-book Revolution?

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I read an article a few months ago suggesting the e-book revolution was on its last legs. Sales of e-books and e-readers are apparently slowing, while traditional paper-based books are enjoying a surge in popularity. I’m one of those people who only ever buys paper books, and who never gets rid of them even after I’ve read them. Just ask my long-suffering parents, whose bookshelves at my childhood home are still full of books I read as a teen and will probably never read again.

Will I ever be converted to e-books? It’s difficult to imagine, but it might depend on what innovations publishers add to them. I went to a panel at a convention last year on the future of publishing, and I heard talk of publishers possibly adding interactive maps so readers could follow a character’s progress during the course of the story. That sounds interesting, but it wouldn’t in itself be enough to draw me away from paper books.

Adding music, though… That would be another matter entirely. Every film and computer game has a score these days, and the best ones can really add to the experience. I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition recently. For me, the most enjoyable aspect of the game is the dragon fights. You see the creature in the distance, toppling ruins or snapping tree trunks with a flick of its tail. Then as you take a breath and charge, one of Trevor Morris’s epic songs fades in. Magic.

Now imagine if the same thing happened when you sat down to read The Lord of the Rings. Imagine Howard Shore’s score playing as the Rohirrim ride to the attack, or as the Battle of the Five Armies gets underway. That’s going to fire the blood, isn’t it? I couldn’t imagine a film or a computer game without a good score, so surely music has the potential to lift a book in the same way? And of course if you didn’t like the music, you could just turn it off.

Having said all that, adding a score to an e-book would present unique challenges. For films and games, it’s easy to marry up the music with the action, but with books it wouldn’t be so easy. What happens, for example, if a battle starts halfway down a page? People read at different speeds, so how would the e-reader know when to begin the music? And what if there were a shift in mood, such as humour suddenly turning to heartbreak, or vice versa? You could end up with some unwanted comical effects as the hero dies tragically while some jaunty melody skips along in the background.

Then there’s the question of price. I don’t know how much an original soundtrack costs to compose and produce, but I’m guessing it runs into thousands, if not tens of thousands. Few authors could justify that sort of expense. A lot of authors probably don’t even make that on a book. For the likes of George RR Martin and JK Rowling, though, maybe it’s something publishers will look to in the future. If it happens, I’ll be giving e-books a try.

Until then, it’s paper books for me.

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