Video and Books: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together?

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high-quality illustrations by Sidney Paget and other artists, establishing the image of Holmes as a tall, thin, beak-nosed patrician long before he was ever portrayed by actors like William Gillette, Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, or (gadzooks!) Robert Downey Jr. On top of that, the Holmes canon has given rise to more than 200 films and television episodes. So the question is how video can be used to enhance stories that already have a firmly ingrained visual component in most readers’ minds.

The Vook producers try several different solutions. Each story is broken into seven or eight parts, with each part prefaced by a video lasting two or three minutes. (On an iPhone, the videos open in a new window, as all QuickTime or YouTube files do.) The first three Holmes videos are informative: one features an actor in Victorian garb, strolling the gaslit back alleys of London and explaining how the British press sensationalized the opium dens in which Conan Doyle set parts of “The Man with the Twisted Lip.” The next two revisit modern-day Baker Street, showing interviews with an archivist at the Sherlock Holmes Museum and the former editor of the Sherlock Holmes Journal. Both characters are charming and contribute interesting tidbits from Sherlockian lore.

But matters go drastically downhill from there. Apparently feeling that they’ve exhausted the historical-reenactment and documentary-interview approaches, the Vook filmmakers revert to MTV style, sending a twenty-something hipster in aviator glasses into the streets of London to interview pedestrians about the current-day whereabouts of Sherlock Holmes—the shtick being that the interviewer is pretending to believe that Holmes was a real, historical personage. With this goofball questions, he tries to trick passers-by, including several American tourists, into betraying their own confusion about whether Holmes was fictional. It doesn’t work. If it had been funny, the man-on-the-street gag might have been tolerable, but it comes off as cheaply ironic. The tone is so off the mark in this context—the Holmes stories are all about nostalgia and suspension of disbelief, after all—that it detracts from the experience.

Crush It! by Gary VaynerchukThe video enhancements are more effective, by several orders of magnitude, in the Vook version of Vaynerchuk’s book, a business-oriented motivational tome. That’s probably because most of the videos star Vaynerchuk, who’s gained Internet fame as the creator of the video blog Wine Library TV and is a complete natural in front of the camera.

The standard, text-only (i.e. paper and Kindle) version of Crush It! is published by HarperStudio, a small imprint at giant HarperCollins charged with rethinking the book business. Apparently that includes being open to partnering with companies like Vook. For the 18 videos in the Vook version, the producers did the sensible thing, which was simply to follow Vaynerchuk as he goes through his days as a wine retailer / Internet marketing consultant / vlogging star / author / motivational speaker. The 35-year-old entrepreneur is an incurably high-energy loudmouth with a penchant for foul language and an utter conviction that if you’re willing to give up your boring old job, work 20-hour days pursuing your inner passion, and learn the ways of Twitter and Facebook, you can create a personal brand that will rocket you to business success. As it turns out, this is a message that comes across much more effectively on video than it does in writing.

But the two still make a useful combination. In the text, Vaynerchuk ratchets down the energy to a level where the reader/viewer can concentrate on the ideas rather than … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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  • Wade,
    Thanks for your thoughtful review of two of our vooks. Our team would agree with most everything you wrote and we are constantly working to improve the product. Stay tuned!
    Brad Inman
    Founder, Vook