The concept of an interactive digital book is nothing new. In 2011 we saw the arrival of a feature-rich iPad-based sequel to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Last year a startup called Inkling announced Habitat, a collaborative digital book publishing tool for professionals that facilitates the creation of interactive textbooks, cookbooks, and how-to guides. In 2014 we have witnessed the launch of both The Alice App and an interactive, mobile version of the bestselling Scholastic book A Very Special Snowflake.
Now, British novelist William Boyd – known for his work on the James Bond series among many other wonderful things – has teamed up with automaker Land Rover to launch a Tumblr-based interactive book. The Vanishing Game is a 17,000 word adventure story about a British actor enlisted to bring a curious object from London to Scotland – by way of a Land Rover, of course.
Certainly the book’s sponsorship sets it apart. Land Rover is reported to have paid Boyd a “six-figure sum” to write a story that mentions the Land Rover Defender. The site on which The Vanishing Game appears includes the Land Rover logo and makes it quite clear who paid the bills. A link from the page leads readers to photographs of driving trips completed by actual Land Rover owners. More interesting than all of that, though, is the way in which the book leverages interactivity and digital media. Readers who visit the Tumblr page can listen to narration with or without viewing the text, hear music and ambient sounds, and view animated photography. The result is a deeply immersive reading experience that goes well beyond the print page (The Vanishing Game is also available as a free download through Amazon’s Kindle Store and Apple’s iBooks).
Fiction purists might find the idea of a brand underwriting a book distasteful, but Boyd has said that Land Rover made very few requests and left him to his own devices. The author dreamed up the characters, setting, and plot, called the project “a most intriguing job,” and pointed out that Charles Dickens once took a similar route. To my mind, the news here isn’t that an author partnered with a brand, but that the result feels – despite publishing’s history with digital books – brand new.
And for that, this reader is grateful.