Saturday, January 03, 2009

Digitisation - It's Not About 'Books'

Today we stand at many believe is the digital evolution of literature, moving from paper to bytes. Many others believe that much will remain the same, after all we, ‘all love, grew up with and where educated by books’. We now ask if the evolution is about books or about the content itself.

In the mid nineties only the few would have envisaged the impact the Internet was going to have on all our lives. Then it was no more than a dirt track and many doubted it could raise its game, but it did and the only limiting factor on its path was not technology, but culture and our ability to adopt, adapt and utilise it on mass.

We have assumed digital is the same as physical and have created programmes and devices to migrate one form to the other. We now have to ask if that’s wise?

We were once invited, along with a mismatch of what appeared no more than teenagers, to a conference held by a global broadcaster. They asked us what they need to do differently and they listened intently to the answers they were given. The biggest change is that the global broadcaster now sees themselves as a rights, manager and owner not a broadcaster. Other media companies are now starting to change their views as change continues and divisions blur and are redefined.

Now we would ask the average book publisher what they see themselves as? We would guess that 'rights manager and owner' wouldn’t be on the tip of most tongues. Some would say that publishing isn’t about books it’s simply about content and rights and understanding the market and channel to it. If we were to look at the trade as a rights trade what would that mean moving forward?

Why do we presume that the physical content will merely morph into the digital. History has surely taught us that media survives but has to adapt to new forms. Fiction is not about books of 75,000 words or 250 pages, its more about telling a good story that captivates, engages and stimulates readers. Why does this have to be any specific length?

The challenge we may now face is to create short stories that are suited to new media. Some may opt to serialise something that was never written to be serialised and in doing so merely create a half way house which is neither one or the other. However, to support short stories may mean that we have to accept that old skills that were honed to the book may not always adapt.


Anonymous said...

If you want your comment on the evolution of the book to be taken seriously, I would suggest brushing up your spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills. I did not read past the first paragraph, and gave up after skimming the rest.

Eli James said...

I think it's interesting to note that there have been two theses on blog fiction (and/or Internet fiction) in the past two years, and they both to a certain extent reach the same conclusions as you have: that it's not possible to port the book whole to the digital platform, without major modification.

I run Novelr, a commentary blog and a gathering point for a big portion of the blooking sphere (independent writers publishing fiction solely on the digital platform, eg: blogs, also published through POD publishers like Lulu or Blurb) and we've been grappling with these very issues for the good part of two years. Part of our aim is to get online fiction - and particularly these independent writers - out to the mainstream. I'd like to invite you over to check out a few things the community has done: most importantly: a quality filter called Web Fiction Guide.

I apologize if this sounds spammy, and wish you (and the traditional publishing establishment) the best of luck in making the digital leap.

PS: Anon, it's the ideas that count. And, yes, while these ideas and observations aren't new, they're important that we have them as we figure out where the book fits into a post-Internet future.