E-books, apparently, are going to destroy the universe, or at least kill p-books and dismantle publishing like some kind of revolutionary army, set on building a world in which trees can roam free without being hunted down by publishers and turned into stories. Despite these frequent warnings and a series of overblown and utterly ignored displays in chain bookshops up and down the country, I’ve so far seen a whole three people with dedicated e-book readers, and about half a dozen more with iPads. True, some of the wielders of fancy telephones might be using them to read books, too, but either way I don’t think there’s yet much sign of the great electropublishing takeover.
However, what I have seen are a bunch of interesting people lurking around and trying to work out some more radical approaches to the future of writing, publishing and reading. Because the e-book, whatever you think of having a book with a glowing screen, a battery life and a three-digit price tag, is basically just a different way of transmitting a novel. It's technology, not art. In the long term, whether or not it takes off isn’t that interesting. What’s a bit more exciting is how the introduction of digital technology to writing will affect the things that are offered to us, as readers, and how we can respond to them. I'm stroking my chin about the consequences for fiction, not economics. Mainly because I know faff all about economics.
I’m going to split this into three posts: interactivity, authorship, and combination efforts. The first will be about changes to the actual medium – how the definition of a book might be changing. The second will examine how the role of the author is, or might be, shifting, including a growth of collaboration and shared ideas. The last will look at a few broader projects that combine elements of everything else. These posts will be spread out over the next few weeks, interspersed with reviews and probably some waffle about my forthcoming trip to The Green Man (good grief, actually planning ahead for the ‘blog - this can't be healthy).
By the way, this isn’t an attempt to be a ragged wilderness prophet of bookdom, marching down from the mountaintop with visions of the future. I’m going to be typing about intriguing approaches that are already happening. Some are new, and some have been around for a while. Some have already made their money and moved on, and others are still flopping about in the womb, feeling lovely and warm and worrying about being born. I doubt all of the new ones will succeed, and some will probably never be heard from again, but it’s fascinating that they’re occurring, and they show that approaches to written art are still changing and developing. The novel is only a few hundred years old – imagine what sort of alterations we might see a couple of centuries further on.