Video on Demand


How many times have we been told that digital technology will fundamentally alter the way we interact with text?

There was hypertext fiction, which added hyperlinks so you could choose your own path through a story. Pfft. There was the enhanced e-book, which was like a regular e-book except it might decide to play audio at any moment, or show you a random video. Pssh. And there are e-books themselves, which, yes, have seized a sizable chunk of the book market, but they have hit a plateau, and they deliver essentially the same product as a paperback.

And remember sentient books? What a disaster. Many lives at HarperCollins were lost that winter.

Okay, I made that one up.

But a new series of books might actually succeed in altering the way we interact with text. And it’s a lot less radical than you might think.

Ideas in Profile is a collaboration between Profile Books (publisher of Eats, Shoots & Leaves and The Economist books) and Cognitive (a multimedia firm that tells stories through animation for clients like TED). They start with a topic—Shakespeare, Politics, The Ancient World, etc.—and create video animations to accompany the writing. So if you choose to read the e-book, you can play some of the book’s original content as a video. If you choose to read the print version, it’s illustrated with stills from the videos.

Sound simple? That’s the point. For once, adding technology to the text is anything but gratuitous. Video is just a medium you can choose to use, or not. Ideas in Profile uses digital technology to combine writing with something even older—drawing.

Brian Hurley is the Publisher at Fiction Advocate and an executive editor at a book publishing start-up in the Bay Area. He used to be the Books Editor at The Rumpus and the linguistics editor at Oxford University Press. His writing has appeared in The Millions, Full Stop, and Electric Literature. More from this author →