I spent some time today playing around with “Immersion Reading” in Kindle. If you have a Kindle ebook, and that book also has an Audible version, you can usually pick up the Audible version for an additional $4. You can then download the Audible version into the Kindle reader on your phone (I don’t mean the Audible app, but rather the Kindle app), and it syncs the two in real-time — while you’re reading.

What happens is that while you’re listening to the audio narration, the words that the narrator is currently reading are highlighted on the screen. The highlighting moves through the page in real time. It’s a bit like having subtitles during a movie.

Here’s a video I found on YouTube showing the system in action:

I didn’t really find that feature (by itself) to be very useful. Movie subtitles when you already understand the language are a distraction, right? However, it does address a really interesting problem that I think a lot of fantasy and science fiction readers in audio format are familiar with, which is the comprehension of strange terminology and worldbuilding.

Often with scifi and fantasy the worldbuilding is really deep, and audio listeners can get lost pretty quickly. It’s not just a mattter of knowing how a location or person name is spelled, it’s also important for understanding that location or person’s meaning and movitvation. Also, sometimes the narrated versions of names look very distinct in printed form, but in verbal form two names may sound very much alike. (This is why Asha, a character in the Iron Islands, got a name change in Game of Thrones, since it sounded too much like Osha, a character in the North.)

With Immersion Reading if you hear something that raises a red flag you can quickly open your smartphone, back it up a smidge, and see how it’s spelled, or how a phrase is written out. In addition to clearing that up, you can also highlight a noteworth passage, and see if other readers have highlighted it too.

Now, the Audible app does have a “Clip” feature. It lets you save part of the narration, and it works great, but I think the highlighting of Kindle ebooks is better. It’s easier to share Facebook quotes in written form (more likely to be read by a friend if it’s words rather than an audio clip).

saved

On the whole Immersion Reading is an excellent feature, but there is a down side: Cost. I figure the value of Audible credits is about $12, and adding the narration typically adds another $4 (if it’s available, and if it’s priced that way). That puts the total cost at $16, versus, say, $0 if the book was available from the library for Overdrive. At 80+ books per year that adds up fast — $1,280 is getting pretty steep.

But there’s no reason why Overdrive and the library can’t do the same, especially if they get a little help from publishers. Let’s hope the industry moves in that direction. It’s the 21st century, after all!

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