The whole enhanced ebook issue is on my mind. Neil Leyden from the IDSC suggested some time ago that the ebook hasn’t gone far enough regarding interactivity and that the publishers could be arm-twisted to do more. But I always get a bit uneasy when publishers are named as the baddies when it comes to the perceived digital shortfall in this area. Surely the rest of the industry, not least the retailers and distributers, have yet to agree on what the epub3 standard actually is?
What about the writers? What are they doing about their workflow to include digital concepts when pitching manuscript to agents and publishers? Or maybe it doesn’t matter for now? It seems the jury is still out among book people regarding how much enhancement text-centric trade titles (fiction, non-fiction, memoir, etc) need. Now there’s even talk of a ‘lite’ version of epub3 that scales back the dimensions of interactivity as if the magnitude of the digital epic is starting to resonate? But my hope is that digital in its full glory will become the norm or at least an option (Amazon’s MatchBook gives a nod here to help print readers make the shift). If publishers are arm-tied with the technology and resources then maybe writers could future-proof their own content, if only in concept, to cater for an e-readership that that will make the shift in time to the enhanced experience? Shouldn’t a writer’s digital outlook be as important a decision to them as the ending of their story, the voice of their narrator or even the genre they are writing for? I mean, what if T.S. Eliot, who credited his editor Ezra Pound as ‘Il miglior fabbro’ (the better craftsman) hated what Faber did with ‘The Wasteland’ app? I’m sure he would have loved the app as most of us do, but at the same time Eliot seems to be the type who’d have chosen his craftsman as wisely when it came to digital as he did for print.
Isn’t enhanced digital a load more work for everyone? Yes. But potentially more market too if content can reach bigger audiences given that fused media is becoming more democratic these days than straightforward text. If I were an enhanced ebook publisher with a load of money (the tools may well be democratized but the money to pay for these tools and the resources to put them into production, for the most part, is not) I’d try to make every ebook have something in it to grab the most reluctant reader and non-reader too be it via film, animation, gaming, music, social networking etc so that the story could be enjoyed on expanded levels. But commissioning editors still have traditional workflows, they are not digital commissioning editors yet, a job that should require technical, creative, editorial and producing skills and who knows what else. Actually, it’s a job that doesn’t exist fully yet. Writers are supposedly creative thinkers. Can’t they push the agenda? Look at Melissa Diem’s ‘The One About The Bird’. Diem’s poetry film may well be a literary shot in the vein but equally non-readers are not excluded, may even be encouraged to stray into a territory readership-wise they may never have discovered if it wasn’t for digital. Some writers are naturally geared for enhanced ebook. There’s much you could do with Kevin Barry’s ‘City of Bohane’, for example and Barry’s own reading skills (he performs like a pro) would be an asset. Or take Orhan Pamuk’s eerie self-referential work of obsession ‘The Museum of Innocence’ published in 2008. If the book had been published now or any time soon the actual museum Pamuk created in Istanbul with his prize money might have been an enhanced ebook (or similar) that displayed his narrator Kemal’s nutty passions globally so that anyone could stare at one of Fusun’s lipstick coated cig butts for hours if that’s what they wanted to do (I hear the enhanced ebook will be made eventually).
All this enhancement! A book doing it all for you? For shame! Isn’t that for lazy people who can’t read anymore? If there was truth in that, so what? True book lovers are not book snobs, nor should writers or publishers be. If that’s what readers are becoming, fine, or more to the point, if enhanced products will encourage lapsed readers and non-readers to love what used to be books? Fine.
The tactile is important to me, I adore the smell of ink, I’d sit for hours with a print book and never leave the house but in another mood I’d watch/listen to Melissa Diem reading her work and feel the text just as much. It’s a different kind of tactile. It’s about choice and informality. It’s about leisure time and how you want to spend it. It’s about loving content as opposed to loving ‘the book’ and unless writers are just writing for themselves (which many do) then maybe they could add another turn to their already twisted arms and carve the industry out a bit here. Think of the alternative? Some well-meaning but completely misguided digi-editor miscalculating your characters’ assets in the future? Surely Pamuk, for example, can be the only true authority on the woman who flipped his narrator Kemal’s heart into obsession? Things like…what would she actually sound like… or what her theme tune would be…or if she had a blog what on earth would she blog about?
[And the disclaimer; without prejudice, all views my own!]