Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Knocking On Mine

By Captain Jay Stringer

Seems we have quite the theme going this week.

I'm not the kind of guy to walk into a room and immediately change the topic of conversation. Well, actually, I'm exactly that guy. But not today. I'm liking this little chat we're all having and I want in.

Me and ebooks haven't always gotten along. It used to be that I couldn't see the point in them. Ipods? Sure. My record collection is big, and carrying all that around plus a gramophone strapped to my back doesn't seem like a good idea. I might want to listen to any song in my collection at any given moment, so it's nice to have a little device in my pocket that can help me out in my three minutes of need.

But books? Pffft. I'm only reading one book at any one moment (give or take,) and so I don't need my entire book collection with me. And on top of all of that, books are already perfectly designed. They're portable. They're durable. They don't run on batteries and they don't lose signal if you put your hand on them.

And books are wonderful. They smell and bend, they hold triggers of memories for us of moments and feelings. The cover can be a work of art and there is something magical about a good edition of a book; that combination of page, binding, cover and text....

(excuse me, I need to be alone for a second....okay.)

You can't replace that. And you won't replace that. Books will always be books. I got to be pretty good at that whole argument.

Then I woke up. The world changes, we change, language changes, my underwear occasionally changes. As Bob Dylan himself said, the time's they are a changing. He also said that we could be in his dream if he could be in ours, and Chris Nolan likes dreams, and this all seems to work out to be a pretty good deal.

So wait, one device that means I can carry a couple of books, and some magazines, and my comics, and a newspaper. Maybe even a few episodes of TV? Yeah, that would be my satchel. But hey, a device that does all of that in the palm of my hand and is shiny and pretty?

A device that means an authors book never goes out of print. That the writer can always be making money off their work, and that everybody everywhere can have access to that work? Holy crap, that's a brave new world, (Miranda says hi.)

You know those fun little boxes in the old Spidey comics that would refer to what happened in a previous issue? Well, now that little box can be a hot link that takes you to the previous issue. A novel can have a soundtrack. A film adaptation of a book can come pre-loaded with the book it was based on as an easter egg. If the first twenty years of the internet age was about exploding the page outward into a maze of world wide web-slinging, the next age seems to be about bringing it all back home. We already perfected the book, and now we have a grasp on the web, lets tie them all back together in one sexy little bundle.

Good times.

But hey, you're clever people. More than that, you read other blogs. Not. One. Bit of what I just said will be new to you. None of it. That's all a conversation that's already been done to death.

But what Bryon and Gumbo Snr have been saying has gotten me thinking. And when I start to think, my dirty dishes sit and cry. I like to climb inside of an idea and sit there for a while, stare at it's walls and check out how well plastering and wiring is holding up.

So I'm here to just add a few questions to the conversation and stir a few pots of boiling stuff, then sit back and check the plastering work.

1. The devaluation of books.

Has traditional book publishing become devalued because of ebooks and the internet? Or, rather, has it become devalued over the last decade as book selling has become about slashing prices as low as you can get them? Are books struggling because we have easier and faster options available, or because we now expect to be able to pick up the greatest book ever written, in hardback, for 2 quid at the local supermarket?

Ebooks are not the enemy of books, just as CD's were not the enemy of Vinyl. They all still exist, and they allow for artists and fans to have a greater selection to suit their own tastes.

2. People read crap?

Sure. People also eat crap, buy crap and wear crap. As a species we like ease of consumption. And yet, the Iliad survives. Shakespeare survives. Daredevil #181 survives. Will you look at that.

Just as with films and everything else; twas ever thus. People want to be entertained. Those who want no deeper form of entertainment than an elephant performing sexual congress on a mouse while a van explodes, well they can have their entertainment. Those who want to dig a little deeper and to know the social background of the elephant, and the ambitions of the mouse, they can have theirs too.

Question again; Do 'people' care about art? To my mind it would seem the only people who care about art and craft are the artists and craftsmen. Everybody else just cares about being entertained. So its the artists responsibility to find a way to engage with their audience whilst maintaining high standards. The audience? Their only responsibility, surely, is to pay the going rate for whatever entertains them.

So if we think that we have reached, or could reach, a tipping point where the new technology opens floodgates to lower standards, how about we just raise our standards? None of us - except on those days when I get to be all powerful- can control the world. We can't suddenly decide what other people will find entertaining, or what passes for quality work. But we have almost total control over what passes for our own quality. We get to be in charge of our own craft and our own tastes. And there's the real drug, right?

3. What can we do?

Well, damn, I don't know. That's why I asked you. But if I had to come up with a suggestion, I'd say there are hundreds of things we could do, but only two things we should do.

Write the best damn stories that we can. Read the best damn stories that we can.

Ebooks will happen. the industry will change, then change again, and again. Books will fade, books will grow, fashions will swirl around and around. The oil will run out and all of our wonderful ebook technology will be for nothing. Then the six people left will renew energy and ebooks will be the future again.The way a writer earns a crust will change, the value of words will go up and down.

But none of that is within our control. And none of that, really, truly, matters as much as the two basics.

Write the best damn stories that we can. Read the best damn stories that we can.

I leave you with the words of the last great prophet of our time; Mr Paul Westerberg.

"Comic Books. The Bible. Roadmaps. Pornography.
Whatever you wanna read.
Go out and sit in a field sometime."


Chris said...

See, what I don't want, or have interest in, are books with hyperlinks or soundtracks or any of that other stuff in them. Especially soundtracks. I've stopped watching more than one book trailer because I hated the accompanying music. I don't want the author's idea of what music should go with it to be forced on me; I want the words on the page to trigger my own ideas of what it sounds like. The more "interactive" the stuff gets, the more spoon fed it starts to feel, and I want no part of that.

Steve Weddle said...

Kinda the way I am about the whole "interactive" thing, Chris. I wonder how Level 26 worked out.

If any interactive book was going to succeed it was going to be this one. Great talent involved in that.

Chris said...

I always forget about Level 26.