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Is This “Self-Destructing” Book The Future Of Reading?

Author James Patterson’s new thriller might be a sign of e-books to come.

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I’ve never read anything by James Patterson, author of the massively popular Alex Cross series, as well as numerous other bestselling thrillers and mystery stories. But, after hearing how his latest book is being promoted, I’ll admit, I’m intrigued. For Patterson’s upcoming Private Vegas, marketing company Mother New York rolled out a campaign that is charmingly novel in the immediate, and has the possibility to be much more impactful in the long term.

As Design Boom reports:

… [T]he famed american author has decided to take the usual eagerness of peeling through the pages of one of his novels to an unprecedented level. adrenaline-loving enthusiasts will have to race against the clock for the ‘most thrilling reading experience ever’ — a self-destructing book that disappears in just 24 hours.

A gimmick, to be sure, but an interesting one. As Mother New York explains, there are two routes thrill-seeking readers can take. The first, humorous (and expensive):

For $294,038 one lucky reader will be able to purchase the book along with a private trip to an undisclosed luxury location, a 5-course dinner with Patterson, gold binoculars to read from a safe distance and a SWAT team for book handling.

But it’s the second option that has, I think, the potential to be much more than a one-off promotional trick. Continues Mother New York:

The second version is a free, digital book released through a web application. 1,000 readers in the U.S. will have 24 hours to race to the end of the book before it disappears in an arresting fashion.

Can’t finish the book in less than 24 hours? Tough. It’s gone.

What's more, the 1,000 readers who are selected for this pre-release opportunity (the book goes on sale to the general public next week) are able to track one another’s progress through the book’s website, and even “steal” time from other participants to “add more tension.” Suddenly, the act of reading a thriller becomes, in and of itself, a thrilling experience. But while the self-destructing Private Vegas is only available for a select cohort of pre-release readers who have requested download codes from the book’s site, the possibilities raised in this instance could be used to enhance the overall experience of reading e-books for everyone in the future.

Imagine, for example, an e-book that isn’t temporally constrained, like Patterson’s, but is instead affected by the geographic location of the reader – chapters might remain locked until you arrive at a certain place or places. Or books for which progress is conditional upon the reader’s completing puzzles or tasks related to the plot – in essence “gamifying” what it means to read a book.

It is, for some, a possibility that would ruin what would otherwise be a relaxing past time. For others, a book’s extra-textural elements could transform reading into a more visceral, immediate – and ultimately, pleasurable – experience. Either way, I’m willing to bet that a 24 hour “self-destructing book” is only the start.

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