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 thespace.org. 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: