With the print industry in a state of decline due to digital alternatives, the future of the book is a key question in the publishing world.
It’s clear that e-readers like Kindle and iPad are desperately trying to convince their readers that they are reading a real book that can be purchased and displayed on your bookshelf despite the fact that digital publications can offer more than the words on the page (or should I say screen!). Amazon claim that on their latest e-reader, “the pages are virtually indistinguishable from a physical book.” And the value of ‘the page turn effect’ was highlighted last month when Apple were awarded a patent for the feature. Book covers are still commissioned and sometimes specially designed for E-books despite the fact that they no longer hold their previous influence over the customer in search of their latest read.
In a similar fashion to books, Vinyl is not as digitally advanced, (nor does it offer bonus features like music video) as digital downloads are, but it continues to be created and coveted by people who love music and the physicality that Vinyl offers. Maybe the same thing is happening to printed books and magazines? There is an increasing amount of beautifully created books and magazines that I believe will always peak the interests of those that love them. Craft and individuality has become a more prominent feature of the internet with websites like etsy.com and notonthehighstreet.com promoting limited edition and hand crafted products over mass produced high street items. Statistics on infographicjournal.com state that at the beginning of 2013 hardcover book sales were up by 10%, this shows the continuing interest in beautifully produced books.
A recent article in New York Magazine shows that “The idea of starting a (non-digital) magazine in this day and age seems downright insane. And yet, for those keeping score at the newsstand, dozens upon dozens of them have sprung up in the past few years.” Magazines about niche topics, beautifully designed with a strong following of readers continue to be published and continue to be successful. The same can be said for books, a recent post on buzzfeed.com: ‘awesomely designed books from 2013 that prove print isn’t dead‘ was a great overview of the beautiful books that are still being produced and admired. More and more books are offering something special like, letters, fold out sections and maps which make the reading experience more interactive. Although digital publications can offer us superior multi-media excitement they cannot offer the physical attributes that make books and magazines covetable and collectable. Reports show that E-books have not cracked 25% of the market and growth has dropped, it appears that print and digital may be able to coexist, each offering a different and equally valuable experience.
When I was first presented with the notion of using Social Media as a literary platform I have to admit that I was very sceptical as I have only ever used Twitter and Facebook for social use and more recently networking. Charlie Brooker recently named Twitter as his No.1 game of 2013 which is an interesting idea and is completely correct in my opinion. People spend a lot of time creating an online persona, trying to say witty things in 140 characters in order to gain as many favourites, retweets and follows. With this in mind I started to see how a literary text could develop over social media as it’s possible to use it to drive stories forward through interaction.
I had a look at Bite-Sized Dracula, which was a Twitter adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The most followed character was Mina Harker, her outspoken persona which is a modern interpretative version of her character in the book, managed to create a big following. However, many of her tweets have nothing to do with the story itself, she tweets as if she is a real person and reveals elements of her life outside of the novel. This causes a lot of what she writes to be humorous for example: “Look, I hate the smear campaign more than anyone, but if you’re going to write about my supposed love affair with Dracula, write it well.” It’s really entertaining but quickly becomes distant from the original text and rather becomes something almost separate. Whilst researching this topic I came across Building Storyworlds – the art, craft & biz of storytelling in 21c, which is an ongoing prototype and story R&D project created by Lance Weiler. He describes it as ‘an experiment in scarcity and abundance, each page of the book says “set this book free please retweet.”’ This introduces the idea of the audience being an integral element in the evolution of the story. Unfortunately in the case of Bite-Sized Dracula the audience interaction had positives as it often prompted good responses from the character but also had negatives as it sometimes interrupted the story completely and made it harder to follow what was happening.
I spent an afternoon with a group of 5 people creating our own Social Media adaptation of William Golding’s The Spire which was initally a daunting task but actually turned out to be a really fun. It was hard to create something serious so we just went for a tongue in cheek modern version which got quite a lot of attention on Twitter. You can follow our progress with the hashtag #BSUSPIRE or take a look at it on Storify. From my experience and research into other literary Twitter adaptations of pre-existing literary texts, it seems that it can only successfully be used to create humourus extensions. However, it seems that if social media is used to create something original that is part of a transmedia story then it can be very successful in using the audience as a tool for extending the story to create something bigger than an existing text.