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Anthony E. Zuiker, the creator the CSI TV franchise has created a hybrid book / TV show / web community which can be consumed via an app or book plus website. A disturbing story and an interesting venture into enhanced ebooks.

Level26 - Dark Origins is book one of a series of so-called "digi-novels" by Anthony E. Zuiker, the creator of CSI. This can be read as a $12.99 iPhone/iPad app, a $17.00 hardback or a $9.99 paper back in which every 40 pages there is a code to unlock a short video. Beyond that there is a 'community' on the website where readers can discuss the books, talk to other readers and see behind the scenes material.

Aside from any literary criticism of this highly misogynistic, heavily formulaic product my main criticism of the much hyped digi-novel format is that the video doesn't particularly enhance engagement. In reading the text one submits and engages with the narrative and characters. The videos, dubbed "cyber-bridges", are too short to allow for the same level of engagement. Furthermore all the plot exposition in the video is subsequently repeated in the text. The video, therefore has no real narrative role. Less cyber-bridges, more cyber-cul-de-sacs. The creators seem to have recognised this in the second of the series as the ten videos are in fact a 60 minute video chopped up. You have the option to watch them as you read or to watch the whole video version of the book afterwards. Why go to the extra expense of making a TV show with your novel? Isn't it a bit like giving a free pizza with every burger?

Zuiker believes he will reinvent the publishing industry with this format and with over 100,000 members signed up to the Level26 community he's making a good start. Although I doubt he's broken even on such numbers. The CSI TV series is said to have turned over $6 billion, so Zuiker has plenty of cash to speculate on reinventing publishing. For me, at the moment, the digi-novel is slightly less than the sum of its parts. Why limit himself to just video, why not ARG style websites, phone calls, texts? Why not allow the reader to role play and become part of the story? This is currently a conservative product made by someone coming out of 'push' model of broadcast TV, but he is partnered with EQAL the people behind LonelyGirl15 and Kate Modern, so it may evolve.

It seems unlikely that a typical novel would be able to sustain the costs of all the extra video production. The crime genre, with it's series completist audience, is a good place to start.

Also, why does the app cost more than the friking paperback?