Book or Video? Which Makes a Better Personal History?

It’s fair to say that most clients think of a life story in book form rather than video. That’s why I previously  wrote 5 Reasons You Should Consider a Video Life Story where I extolled the virtues of video. As I said then, I have a bias because my background is in documentary filmmaking. But I’ve also produced several books.  So which is better? Each format has its strengths and weaknesses. You be the judge. Here are six areas where books triumph over videos.

  • Books will last. Printed on archival paper and properly stored, books will be around longer than any current digital media. The best “guesstimate” for  DVDs is a lifespan that ranges from 5 years to over 100 years depending on the manufacturing process of the DVD and its storage. But the bottom line is that no one knows for certain.
  • Print books don’t require hardware to read them. Digital hardware and formats continue to change. There’s a thriving business in transferring old media to current formats. Who out there doesn’t have a box of old videotapes waiting to be digitized? But you can still pick up a book printed a century ago and read it.
  • Books capture detail. Books are splendid at documenting the intricacies and depth of a story. This isn’t video’s strength. Video prefers a broader stroke and emotional content over detail.
  • Books have presence. You can hold a book in your hand. It has weight, texture, and odor. It almost demands that you pay attention. A DVD case, no matter how attractive the labeling, feels  insubstantial.
  • Books are convenient. You don’t have to plug them in, recharge batteries, or worry about dropping them.  You can pick up a book and in an instant start reading.
  • Books are  accessible. An attractive Life Story book set out on a coffee table invites friends and family to pick it up. Unlike viewing a video there’s no need to set up equipment.

How many of you provide your potential clients with a choice of a book or video personal history? Do you think you should?

Photo by iStockphoto

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10 Responses to Book or Video? Which Makes a Better Personal History?

  1. Nicely done, Dan. I went back and viewed the video post as well (of course)… and the samples (of course!). I really enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work. You inspire me.

    Bill ;-)

    http://drbilltellsancestorstories.blogspot.com/
    Author of “Back to the Homeplace”
    and “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”
    http://www.examiner.com/x-53135-Springfield-Genealogy-Examiner
    http://www.examiner.com/x-58285-Ozarks-Cultural-Heritage-Examiner

  2. Thank you for pointing out the advantages to both methods of preserving a life story. I think a video would be a faster more immediately engaging way of telling a life story, but a book may be a longer lasting more in depth way to record a life story. Both ways are good, but each individual or family may prefer one over the other. I think creating a video may be a good place to start and then create a book.

    • @Jenalee. Thanks for your comments, Jenalee. As someone who has done both videos and books, I can tell you that video is not necessarily a faster method of getting a life story told. The editing time once you’ve done the initial interviews is very labor intensive. It takes anywhere from 15 to 20 hours of editing for each hour of interview conducted.

  3. Dan,
    When you produce a book, how many hours (transcribing, writing, editing) do you estimate for each hour of interview conducted?
    Marjorie

    • @Marjorie Keen. I think you’ll find that the length of time varies from subject to subject. A rough guide would be 3-5 hrs. of transcribing for each hour of interview. And editing and writing 15-20 hrs./hour of interview. Don’t hold me to this!

  4. Kevin Merrell

    A great succinct list here, Dan. I recently pitched a personal history project to a retired dentist who told me he didn’t care what it cost as long as the final product was a book. He wasn’t even interested in edited, polished CDs of our interviews. He’d struggled to digitize some old home videos and was unhappy with the results.

  5. Thanks Dan, I enjoy your posts, I’m a big advocate of writing your life story, for all the reasons above, however, there is a small part of me that would love to find a video of an ancestor. There could be nothing more revealing then seeing and hearing them for yourself. For that reason, a video is marvelous. Imagine a grandchild or great grandchild who never met a grandparent but could through a video. As much as a book is precious, a video could be amazing if it wasn’t for that ever changing thing called technology.

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