Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Death of Print?

A few days ago I attended an interesting talk at Ideas Tap (link below), which featured Bill Thompson (who works for the BBC World tech department), Tom Chivers (who runs an independent publishing house), and key members of And what they were discussing was how the digital age is going to change the way literature is conveyed.

I found the talk fascinating. I think what people don’t realise is that like everything in this era, literature is bound to change and evolve. I’m not saying the traditional forms (e.g. books and newspapers) are going to completely die out anytime soon, I’m just saying technology and this new society is going to open new doors to different art forms.

Don’t get me wrong, I love paper. I practically own a small library, but on the face of it, paper looks like it’s having a bad time.

With the launch of the internet, and information mauling us from every possible direction, physical newspapers are becoming more and more redundant. Why bother spending the money on a newspaper when you can go find it the information for free? This is reflected in newspaper sales over the past 10 years. Of course, with the launch of free newspapers, such as The Metro and The Evening Standard in London, I think that’s one reason newspapers are not going anywhere soon. As for the art of journalism? For as long as there is news to be reported (which is always), people will always want a legitimate, accurate, well written source to gain it from, whether it be on paper or on screen.

There is another reason why I think paper isn't going to go anywhere soon. On top of newspapers, I'm talking about the good old-fashioned book. People like paper. People like to feel a book or newspaper in their hands, to read a physical form. As they say, old habits die hard. But with the current generation learning to love e-readers, is that really going to stay around forever? I think books will start to be seen as an art form. People will want to buy good quality, crafted editions to keep as a physical manifestation of a story they love.

This brings me onto books and publishing. For many years, the publishing has worked like this: Writer à Agent à Publisher à Wholesaler à Retailer à Reader

But with the launch of e-books, and the connections the internet has provided, things are changing. Now any person can go and publish online, cutting out the majority of the middle man, and interacting directly with their readers. It’s cheap and you retain the majority of your sales. Or you can go to an agent or publishing house, and submit your material there. It’s probably better to do it via agents and publishers because, let’s face it; if you can be a writer, artist, PR, and editor, you’re probably a new breed of human. As for e-books itself, they’re becoming increasingly more and more popular. I would like to draw attention to this Stephen Fry quote: 'Books are no more threatened by the Kindle than stairs by escalators'. People use escalators because they’re faster and easier to use, but fundamentally they rely on technology. Which is renowned for being unreliable. So when our e-readers succumb to technological fault, or if we just fancy the healthier, quieter walk up the stairs, we will always have the reliable paper book.

The major downside to e-books is the key upside to e-publishing: the easiness of it. The quest for a good e-book is snared by the poor quality ones out there, unedited and not proof-read. I feel that self-published books may be looked down upon if quality dwindles significantly. Nevertheless, there are books of exceptional quality to keep the standard even. There is also the factor that the majority of e-books read are the ones which are sold through publishing houses, because they’re better quality, and the reader has the guarantee that someone else felt like it was a good book. They are also the ones which had the most time, effort, and money put into selling them, because they want the book to be a success for a whole chain of people. And that’s the thing, how much money do you want to make from your work? We’ve all heard the stats, 10%, 5%, 1% of books sent to an agent/ publishing house gets published, and in all honesty, those are the ones which are going to make the big bucks. But are you writing to be the next JK Rowling? Or are you writing to get your work out there and for some people to read it? I personally will keep trying with agents for my book, because I know I need help, and also I am a fan of the traditional book, but for many people they just want to get their work out there, and e-publishing is great for that.

I mentioned right at the beginning that the digital age is going to revolutionise literature. But how so? Because now with social networking, it is possible to connect dozens or hundreds of people who are all interested in the literature scene to gather together and form a community. Before poetry was confined to paper with an assortment of its peers, bound together for the occasional person to read, now it can be performed live, shared across websites, or photographed. People will wonder if this boundary pushing literature is valid.  Well, the purpose of literature is to tell a story, and before books were around people were acting them out, or painting them onto walls. Storytelling is evolving, and like all change, we must accept it.

It’s impossible to predict what exactly is going to happen in the future. I don’t think print will die, we’re all too nostalgic for that, but I think new and exciting doors will open, and I for one can’t want to see what will happen then.

If you are a young, creative person aged 16-25 and live in Britain, I strongly recommend you join IdeasTap:

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Books (In which I discuss the importance of)

If you follow me on Tumblr, you may have noticed that I have been taking part in the 30 day book challenge. For those of you who don’t know, the 30 day book challenge is about looking at books that have a meaning to you or that you have an opinion about, for 30 days. So this got me thinking, “why do people love books so much?”.

Books have been around for millennia and stories for even longer. On the surface, a book is a way of carrying information from one person to another, whether it is stories, ways to pass your exam, or a biography of somebody’s life. And that’s what people love. I believe that people who love reading also love to learn. I think that’s also where the popularity of non-fiction comes from, people’s curiosity. When you’re younger, people will encourage you to read because it “improves your English” (as my mum constantly used to say to me). But if you ask someone why they like fiction, that’s not the reason they’ll give you. So there has to be something more.

Fiction centres on stories. About made up characters and events, and even whole new worlds. People have been making up stories for as long as time itself. And there have been people listening to them for that same amount of time. When I was growing up, the main reason I loved reading was because I could escape from my boring life. I loved how for a few moments I could be in a different place, a different time, with a whole new bunch of people having an adventure. And that’s what books do, you could be sitting in your bedroom, but be in an alternative universe at the same time. As I got older, I realised I loved the meaning that can be gained from a book. Again I was learning, but not about the best way to structure a sentence for my English exam, but about the world and all the good and bad things there are in it. You get to walk in another person’s shoes for an entire story, and to see the world from a different perspective.

When I’m old, and if somebody asks me a defining event that happened while I was growing up, I have no doubt I will say “Harry Potter”. Which brings me to my next point: the book community. People want to talk about books, whether if it’s discussing Snape’s motives for killing Dumbledore (it’s been 8 years guys), or why one character is better than the other. Books are there for the sharing. We want our friends to share our excitement, to see if they share our reaction. And since Harry Potter, reading has never been cooler. The excitement before each book release, the pouring over pages, and the waiting for each film, means that Pottermania is a part of my childhood that I’ll never forget.

The technological age has given a whole new dimension to the book community. You like an obscure book? Well someone else in the world must have read it, even if no one in your day to day life has. The internet provides discussion, reviews, and ideas which you can contribute and become a part of. Booktubers on Youtube will give us a consistent review online. Fanart and fanfiction will be produced and written. Books are there to be shared and now we can share them with the entire world.

So overall, how do I rate books? Well I can see no downsides to them; they provide entertainment, teachings, and a community, and for that it would have to be 10/10.