story is the music of books

If iTunes store decouples “music” from “albums”, what will future publishers decouple from “books”? What’s the “music” equivalent?” – Kathy Sierra, on Twitter

For tech books, safari already does do some decoupling; I grab just chapters and subsections all the time off of safari” – Matt Bowen, in response

but that’s my question… the word “chapter” (or section) does imply fine-granularity (like “song”), but what’s the “music”?” – Kathy Sierra

The music is the story, for fiction, and the knowledge, for non-fiction.  (Generally.)  It is the part of the “book” that remains the same, regardless of format or edition: Whether you read the story in a hardback or a paperback, from an eReader or an iPhone, have it read to you by a professional storyteller or a friend, and for this analogy even when you watch an adaptation for stage or screen or as a video game (or other interactive entertainment), there is a core thing that remains the same.  Whether you get your information from a technical manual, a lecture, a powerpoint presentation, an instructional video, or direct mentorship, there is a core of knowledge that remains the same.  This is the music, this is the melody, of what books provide.

iTunes is not what decoupled “music” from “albums” – music existed prior to albums, as sheet music and as live performance, at the least.  Even after the advent of the album, the concert experience -unless the live playlist strictly matched the album’s- decoupled music from the confines of the album, often mixing, mashing, and altering the music with every event.  The single separated out a song or two at a time (sometimes several “singles” released over time for each album), but if singles weren’t doing the sort of decoupling you imply iTunes does, then neither does iTunes.  That sounds like more of the job of the device; the record player, the walkman, the iPod, the live performer, which decouples the music from the medium (record, tape, MP3, memory/sheet-music) to deliver it to you.

So now I’m wondering what you meant, rather than pursuing the interesting part of the line of thought, about story:  Did you mean how iTunes delivers music electronically, without a physical container (MP3 vs CD), or did you mean how iTunes allows you to buy individual tracks rather than the groups of tracks known as ‘albums’, or did you mean something else I haven’t understood?  Hrm.  There are plenty of electronic book sales channels out there that deliver the book without need for the physical container, and most of them have stripped away everything but the raw text (current eBook formatting is atrocious), delivering only the story and none of the window dressing (think the big album artwork on a record, and the glossy, embossed dust jacket on a big paperback – it’s not the book, it’s not the album, it’s marketing material).

But then again, there’s this interesting thought about ‘story is to book as music is to album’ that seems very interesting to me…  And the other idea -that Matt brought up- of ‘chapter is to book as song is to album’, and how for some types of writing (poetry, technical manuals) it makes sense for people to want/buy individual tracks/chapters apart from the book as a whole, but then there’s most long-form fiction, and linear and narrative non-fiction, where that doesn’t work.  Do you want just chapter 24 of the latest techno-thriller?  Just the first and the final chapter of a mystery?  Or are you here for the story? Some thoughts:

Voice acting & performance is to audio book as page layout & cover design is to paper book.

A concert is to an album as a reading is to a book.

The easy to use, high-capacity MP3 player with custom playlists and ‘shuffle’ changed the way we, as consumers, take in music.  I see electronic reading (including blogs & RSS aggregators, dedicated eReaders & smart phones, and Twitter & facebook status updates) driving toward shorter and shorter ‘chunks’ of words; often part of a longer narrative, but easily broken into bite-size pieces.  RSS aggregators are like shuffle (and playlists, if you categorize your feeds) for online writing.  Twitter mixes all the conversations of everyone you follow together in the same way – narrative & story have not disappeared, they’ve just been chunked and shuffled.  People are micro-blogging fiction, writing whole novels on Twitter and on facebook pages (and in Japan, novels via SMS, written and read without ever leaving phones), and have you heard of the growth of ‘flash fiction‘?  The alteration of the landscape of story, which is the music a book plays in your mind, has been going on all around you, and it is already decoupled from paper, from ‘book’.  Writers are changing the way they write stories, readers are changing the way they consume stories, (and not just stories, but knowledge as well, as evidenced by most of the feeds being non-fiction, and the success of services like Safari (which Matt mentioned) breaking non-fiction into individually-available chapters and sections) it’s been going on for years, and the paper book isn’t going to die because of it – we’re simply beginning to have a richer, broader landscape that comes to mind when we think of ‘book’.

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