Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Present of the Book


There’s been a lot of talk about the future of the book. For a while I got interested in it, I was involved in conversations about ebooks and self-publishing and all that but I lost interest. There are a lot of ways to publish books these days and I expect many of them will continue to exist for some time.

And we’ll still talk about the future of the book.

Last year in Canada we had something called the National Forum on the Literary Arts. It was described as, “some 250 members of the Canadian literary community gathered in Montréal for 2 days of meetings and discussions designed to work towards a positive vision for the future of Canadian literature. The event was organized around four themes: creation, publication/production, dissemination and sustainability.”

I’m sure lots of interesting stuff came out of the forum.

A couple of days ago a Canadian writer who attended the event, Pasha Malla (I’ve read his short story collection, The Withdrawal Method, it’s excellent), posted his “27 Thoughts about CanLit.” It’s all very interesting, but what I wanted to focus on here, was his final thought, not about the future of the book, but about the present of the book. He wrote:

The book “…must offer something that other media cannot. Movies will always do a better job of showing-not-telling. The Internet will always allow for greater direct involvement and agency. TV will always make more money. And video games, thankfully, will always provide a better venue for murdering nerds. Despite that we can barely begin to guess what new forms of competition for public attention will arise in this new century, “the future of the book” seems to be the only thing anyone wants to talk about these days. Here’s what I want to know: what’s the present of the book? I’d like to talk about it.”

Are books now really just a cheaper-to-produce version of other media? If (maybe I should say when) the technology advances enough that we authors could sit at our desks and produce a movie or a TV show or a video game instead of a book, would we?

What does that say about the present of the book?


Dana King said...

You kind of mixed your questions there at the end. The "if/when" deals with a possible future, and I don't do predictions, not even of who's going to win a football game.

As for the present of the book (I'm including e-books), it fills a valuable niche in several ways. It's portable, relatively inexpensive, and provides a type of interactive experience other forms of entertainment do not. True, video games are "interactive," but books engage the imagination in more detail, as the reader draws his own images and does not depend on those of others. That is less important than it used to be, as people had no other options in the 19th century, but it still appeals to a lot of people, and I expect it will continue to do so. E-books may someday lead to a different experience from what we have now--linking to other bits that will elaborate on things the reader may wish to know more about, instead of requiring him to look it up--but I believe there will always be a substantial number of people who find books engaging in ways other media are not.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Considering the future of the ebook I think that it is important to consider how children today are learning to read.

The present of the book varies immensly around the globe. E-readers in Europe are not so common. Tablets are, but mostly for gaming from what I see.

What is important to you as an author? I may guess selling stories, whether that be e-books or printed. Gotta ride the wave.