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 I did an enhanced eBook version of my book, How Music Works, in which you can not only enlarge the pictures, but also play short musical snippets scattered throughout, to help explain the concepts I mention in the text. These are VERY short—this is not a way to have background music while you read, but a way to help readers understand what I'm referring to.

The folks at McSweeney's in San Francisco, Canongate in Edinburgh, and my own office in NY have worked hard and long to make this version of the book possible. It doesn't cost more than the regular eBook (though Amazon tends to discount physical and eBooks heavily), and of course the music won't play on devices that don't do this—like the older Kindles and Nooks. However, we want to get it working on as many of the current devices as possible—like the Color Nook and Kindle for iPad app. (I turned down an offer from Apple that would have made it work exclusively on their format, through their iBooks Author program.)

It's been an incredibly frustrating experience, and we're not out of the woods yet. These companies all created their own proprietary formats—both to try to lock you into buying from their stores and (probably at the insistence of big publishers) to make it really, really hard to share or lend a book to a friend, as one often does with physical books. That's sad, as gifting is both an important kind of social glue, and it also helps spread the word of mouth about books that folks fall in love with. Like mix tapes, they turn readers on to books they didn't know about.

So far, we have the enhanced eBook working in the Apple iBook format. That's a start. Amazon won't allow side-loading a file on a Kindle, even for our testing purposes—instead they have created a desktop application called Kindle Preview which is supposed to show you how your file will look and work on their various devices. It does this fine with the typefaces and page flows and images, but as far as the music goes it refuses to cooperate—and the support folks for this are nowhere to be found. Hell, this is the perfect way to show what their devices can do! Why don't they want these files to work and serve as a showcase for their stuff! For now, the only way you can play an enhanced eBook on Kindle is through their iPad app (even though the Kindle Fire has the capability to play sound and video, it can’t play those things embedded in an eBook file!).

Color Nook is the same at this point: it displays the text and images fine, but won't play the music—which is the fun part! McSweeney’s is currently making slight changes in the code of these files, to fit Nook’s own requirements, but it has been an opaque process.

I'd like to apologize to anyone who is interested in this book and wants to buy an enhanced eBook that will play music—we don't want to offer it in these formats until it is working. Sorry. Meanwhile, the physical book is a truly lovely object, should one want to go the old fashioned route.

DAVID BYRNE (14/09/2012) 

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