1. You are trying to enhance the reading experience with Booktrack, the new company you are involved in as investor and chairman. Why would people want a soundtrack and sound effects playing while they read?
The advent of Booktrack is similar to when sound was applied to movies. At that time, Warner Brothers founder Harry Warner famously said “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”. Regardless of whether or not you are a traditionalist and think that the imagination should be left alone to visualise the book you are reading, it is an irrefutable fact that sound lifts and enhances all the senses and any experience. When sound is matched exactly to the pace you are reading – then it becomes an entirely new experience altogether; many people have called it a ‘movie-book’ experience.
2. What’s your favourite novel and is there a Booktrack of it yet?
My favourite novels are the likes of James Clavell’s Taipan, Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby – and no there are not yet Booktrack’s for these. But there will be.
3. Creating a BooktrackIt seems like a complicated process – akin to recording a score for a film. What’s involved and is it an expensive process?
It is definitely a process – but it is not complicated. It is a mixture of art and science and yes there are parallels to a film score. Booktrack has developed custom Creator software which makes the process of laying the audio over the text of the book very simple and fast. It can’t be an expensive process otherwise we wouldn’t have a good business.
4. Is there a particular genre, reading demographic, category of fiction or non fiction that Booktrack works particularly well for?
Booktrack has proven to work across many genres – however things like textbooks are likely to be less suitable than perhaps science fiction or horror or mystery.
5. Many models of Amazon’s popular Kindle ebook reader also handle audio. Are there plans to bring Booktrack to the Kindle? What other platforms does Booktrack support?
We are working hard on all platforms and all readers – Booktrack’s aim is to be everywhere and in order to be an industry standard that lives forever, it must achieve that aim. Watch this space for new platform releases throughout 2012.
6. The influential technology website Techcrunch described Booktrack as a “laughably stupid idea”. Wired reported that “adding tawdry effects doesn’t enhance the experience”. How has Booktrack generally been received in the all-important US market?
A handful of media have missed the point and been aggressive; I’m pretty sure they will look very silly in a few years. To date Booktrack has been covered by over 300 media outlets around the world most of whom have reacted incredibly positively. They realise that Booktrack is indeed a true paradigm shift unlike the vast swathe of most tech companies today that are solving very small problems with very little genuine innovation, Booktrack is legitimate and true innovation which often polarises people. With Booktrack it is far too easy to trash it (when I first heard about the concept I too thought it was one of the most stupid ideas of recent history – until I *tried* it).
In the end it only matters what the people think – and we have had an enormous number of downloads, including one of the most downloaded ebook titles of 2011 and the App store ratings and feedback have been extraordinarily high and over the top positive.
7. What has it been like doing business with famed Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel?
Peter is a very nice, incredibly sharp, contrarian thinker. With the recent successes of LinkedIn, other Paypal Alumni start-ups and the pending IPO of Facebook in 2012 Peter will have cemented his position in the world as one of the most successful technology investors of our generation; we are incredibly lucky to have him as a fan of New Zealand.
8. The Kindle, Nook, iPad and Kobo have fuelled an explosion of growth in ebooks. Where do you see the market going? Are more interactive books – like Booktracks, needed to keep people reading in the digital age where there’s competition from other rich-content sources?
The future of reading is digital – in fact it is the present already in as much as within a couple of years the market will be worth tens of billions of dollars. Innovation will continue to come along in ereading; however to date we have seen very very little – to date we have seen mostly a mash up of the internet and reading. Booktrack represents a step-change in the reading experience itself, I’m sure other companies will come along and provide further innovations in the reading experience.
9. How much of a “game-changer” was the launch of the iPhone in 2007 to the mobile advertising market?
It was *the* game changer, as it enabled the world to understand what it truly meant to leverage the power of a connected mobile device. Until then players in the industry such as myself were having to tout shitty Nokia WAP phones as one day ‘changing your life’. Even today, those phones fall well short of the whole new paradigm of touch screen interactivity.
10. What impact is the rise of the “app” having on mobile advertising? Is this to some extent subsuming other advertising methods, such as text message-based promotions?
To date, the app has mostly been a new form of inventory for mobile advertising. As time goes on, we will see new types of advertising within apps – because they will become much more custom, location sensitive, very targeted and personal. SMS is still very popular, but on that front QR codes have taken over very quickly in the US as the main form of rapid-response mobile marketing. We are yet to see that in NZ. Our new company Snakk Media is taking the lead on new forms of mobile advertising in the Asia-Pacific market.
11. Augmented reality is often talked about these days after first being raised as having potential on the mobile for advertising and marketing purposes a decade ago. What potential do you see for the technology in the world of mobile advertising?
AR holds much promise but has a long way to go, however most of it is a few years off yet. It’s hard to visualise exactly what it will entail – however it will become a means of simply holding up a device and viewing through the screen an entire set of information, messages, recommendations and possibilities for the consumer. It’s a little hard to explain, but the best way to try is to imagine a world where every location is populated with virtual ‘content’ tailored to that exact place on the planet, that you can only see and experience if you hold up an AR device. How useful and well thought out that content is, will be the key to ARs consumer adoption.
12. You spent the best part of a decade building up The Hyperfactory with your brother Geoffrey. What were the key technological breakthroughs during that period that fuelled growth of the company – and the whole market for mobile advertising.
As noted above the iPhone was a major. Another major was American Idol introducing SMS voting in the mid 2000’s. Widespread 3G was the third. There were no other technological breakthroughs that had any impact comparable to those three events.
13. As someone who has run and invested in technology start-ups, what’s the key to staying innovative, competitive and picking what the market is going to need?
I believe that building a high-growth innovation start-up is so incredibly hard no matter what industry you are in, that for technology start-ups I have one base rule: pick a market that at the fundamental level, is forecast to soar. If you have a rapidly growing market or changing consumer behaviour, you can make many mistakes along the way, change your tactics and still survive to win.
For example – currently one of those markets is ebooks – for the next five years, it is impossible to think of the ebook industry doing anything but experiencing stellar growth. In staying innovative or competitive our pattern has always been to imagine what the future should be like four or five years out, and then do what needs to be done today to make that a reality tomorrow. Versus, looking at what the market or competitors are doing today and using that to base where we should be next year.