In this article on The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder discusses a new ebook format that Medallion Media has just unveiled, called the TREEbook. The format introduces the component of time into the reading experience: the ebook makes decisions that affect the outcome of the story for you based on your own reading habits, such as how long it takes you to finish a passage. It only seems logical that TREE stands for Timed Reading Experience Ebook. It pushes the boundaries of active fiction, but as with all new technology it is accompanied by a plethora of questions and implications.

To begin to understand the concept of active reading, I attempted to read Stephen Marche’s experimental interactive novel, Lucy Hardin’s Missed Period and I will admit that being in control of what happens is kind of intriguing. It’s like a new story every time you read it, like re-reading your favourite book and noticing something new, but much less predictable. For a consumer society that wants the biggest bang for their buck, this style of reading seems like a fantastic idea. The TREEreader takes the Colilquy application (available on Kindle, Nook and Android) a step further in that the ebook makes all the decisions. It seems as though reading can once again return to being the traditional experience that has kept us turning pages to find out what happens next for centuries – so how new is this concept, really?

As Hoffelder points out, the format requires a particular suite of tools that Medallion will release to publishers and ebook conversion companies for developing their own titles. The format also requires more writing – and necessitates even more new ideas – generated by the author; is it possible for an artist to imagine multiple beginnings, middles, and endings for the narrative that he/she believes to be perfect? The good news is that Medallion president Adam Mock assures us that “you can read the book without being aware that the story is changing”. But the question remains how much will the necessary works suite cost for the publishers involved in the production of these books, and how will that affect the price point of such a book that the consumer sees on the other end?

Hoffelder writes that the mysterious nature of a changing plot line would put him off the second or third time he picked up the book, however I am inclined to disagree. It is true that this technology my not be appealing to everyone, however I do see clear potential for reluctant readers of any age: if their attention is wavering and they are moving through the text slowly, an exciting or suspenseful plot twist generated because of their reading habits may be just what it takes to keep them from giving up. My dad is notably a reluctant reader, barely inclined to pick up a book and rarely compelled to read past the first two chapters, however for readers like this, the unpredictability and mind-reader-esque technology may spark their interest. And even if the TREEreader doesn’t catch on, it still keys into the potential for conversations among readers – “When I read it, this happened, what about you?”– which seems to be a primary focus of companies like Kobo, Apple, and Kindle anyways.