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Future of the Book

Posted by in blog October 16, 2012

Contemporary literature and story-telling is once again thrust into the limelight as the annual Man Booker Prize winner is announced later today. 2012 marks the 44th year of the Prize, which began in 1969; a time when silicone was neither a chip nor a valley. The legacy and regard of the Man Booker Prize illustrates that our enduring love for literature and stories remains strong. It is how we consume literature that now divides us and has been the key debate of recent times.

The Challenge

The emergence of the tablet technology has (all in all) been met with a mixed response. The relationship between publishing and technology has been especially fractious. Over the counter book sales are down as publishing giants scramble to find a new model in a similar vein to their music industry counterparts, while the Amazon downloads (click, basket) continue. The biggest social-proof of this growing trend is my morning commute on the tube, where e-readers match the Metro 2 to 3. However for many readers, tablets and e-readers supplement reading experiences rather than replacing books, whose charm, romance, photography, design and tactility cannot be enjoyed fully within an e-reader.

Future of the book

Now is not the time to lament however but to innovate (the IPod was not spawned by product designers romantic about the tactility of the Sony Discman). And that is what this year’s Webby Award winners of the experimental and weird category did.  Taking stock that pixels are here to stay, the Future of the Book identifies new different ways for readers, authors and publishers to collaborate, consume and discover. Future of the Book identifies three opportunities for reading with richer content. These are:

Non-linear narrative

A formula that turns storytelling on it’s head allowing readers to experiment and engage in the storytelling process. Readers can unlock new aspects of the story and be involved in real world challenges like a phone call from the protagonist, blurring the lines of fiction and reality.

Networks and shared libraries

This model enables readers to build collective libraries through shared networks and tap into essential content by following individuals and organisations that inspire us. It makes it easy for busy professionals to stay on top of industry must reads and relevant content.

Connecting books to commentary

This model connects books to social commentary and contextual information to help situate the content within popular opinion and debate.

For a comms agency-cum-nouvelle vague publishing house, like us this is exciting stuff.

The Experience Model

Insight and learning into the future of reading can be drawn from the music industry model, that according to Gladwell has moved from a model of consumption to a model of experience. The music model once existed and thrived on record sales alone. Records were sold at a cost but were treasured and tactile possessions. Sales were relatively successful and considered high.  This is where Polydor, Universal and Capitol made their money and this is where music fans chose to spend it. Fast-forward fifty years and Gladwell argues that we have witnessed a significant shift. A movement away from buying and consuming music towards an experience model, whereby the experience of the concert is the valuable and treasured thing, not so much the record purchase. These concerts occur less frequently. They are considered rare. We value the experience of being there, being part of something and will therefore pay a premium for the experience. You only have to look at eBay to see how lucrative a business ticket re-sales have become.

Is the music model a prophecy for literature?

There are similarities. Changes in technology and consumption habits, both in music (Sony Discman to Spotify) and in literature (hardback to hard-bit download). Music festivals and concerts have long played an important role in the music industry, pre-dating Spotify it cannot be denied. However the cost and value of attending a show has increased. As a comparison literature festivals have tended to be more fringe, perhaps until now. Many literature and book festivals are main-streaming. Hay-on-Wye in particular with appearances and accolades from the likes of Bill Clinton, Hay now runs fifteen festivals across five continents.

How will we be experiencing next year’s Man Booker Prize winner? As a non-linear narrative, across social networks or at a literary festival?

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