Is the (paper) book dead? What is its fate? Will writers survive? Will the next generation read?
And if so, which platform/reader will they use? These questions, along with related topics (blogging, how to promote your book using social media etc.) were hot panel topics at the book festivals I recently attended, rivalling the staples such as the fiction non/fiction divide and how to turn your own experiences into a story. Writers and other professionals dissected trends, ranted, doubted, pronounced, prevaricated, eulogised. Some said, Fear not: surf the digital tsunami, open yourself to the opportunities and creative potential of the medium – one way or another, stories are our lifeblood and they will evolve and survive. Others said, Beware: writers and readers are being being dumbed-down and forced into a model of production and consumption which suits manufacturers and distributors, rather than bodies and minds… Perhaps, some suggested, the way out of this techno-tangle is to regenerate our oral traditions – perhaps the internet will even help us do so? Actually, others insisted, it’s both: Fear not and Beware, simultaneously.
After a few days of this, my feeling (and yes, my newer titles will soon be e-books, but no, I don’t yet have a reader: ipad, too heavy; Kobo, too tacky; Kindle, better – but still, like all of them, too stiff, and too expensive)… My feeling is that this dizzying blend of excitement and anxiety, this concern with the mechanics and balance sheet of the book, not the book itself, not what is inside it, is enough of a wind-up to drive me either to utter, hysterical distraction –– or else, right back to work. Back to a desk in a quiet room, just what Joan Didion called these pictures in my head, which is where all this started, once upon a time.
But I do love what some visual artists are doing with books:
And at least one person I met whilst at the Vancouver Festival did not seem at all confused as to the Fate of the Book. Adam, at Oscar’s Art Books, enjoys his work on the Espresso 2.0 book machine! It prints small print runs, or even single copies of books that are in the public domain, or available on licence , or assembled from a variety of sources (e.g. textbooks), and likewise he can turn your own file into a bound book in matter of days. The various legalities and licences may be frustrating, and sometimes the machine is a temperamental – but, Adam says, dust on the sensors can be blown off, and jammed paper can be tugged free. Each book takes about twenty minutes to produce. He finds it’s best to hang out by the machine and watch, serenely, just in case… On the one hand, global content and global distribution, the McDonaldsization of reading. On the other, one happy man, Adam, printing out a copy of something you really want, just for you…. These may be my last words: I am going to my office, now.
Here’s another discussion on the topic from some people who ought to know, including my own publisher, KimMcArthur: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2010/11/30/blue-metropolis-bleu—the-future-of-the-book-1/