Digital Literature. Part 1 - The industry response.

The arrival of the Kindle and the iPad have shaken up the book world. One doesn't have to look far to find much fear and confusion in the book publishing industry evoked by the possibility of so much change. But don't panic book people! Just as TV didn't destroy radio, digital media will not destroy the book. Instead new hybrid forms of text, image, sound and data will evolve to compliment the pleasure of holding the printed page. Or will they? Maybe the book is perfect as it is. I thought I'd like to explore this emerging world and find some examples. These two blog posts are the fruits of that search. Please do comment with you own suggestions. 

  • eBooks
  • Digital Graphic Novels
  • Enhanced eBooks
  • Transmedia books
  • Hypertext literature

1. eBooks

Meet the new boss the same as the old boss. Text on a page still works, even if the page is on a small electronic device. eBooks appeal to some people for their convenience. I'm not going to discuss text books in this blog post.

2. Digital Graphic Novels

Many digital graphic novels fail to exploit the possibilities of moving image and interactivity - they are just static pictures on a screen instead of a page, eg Tanantos. Here the web is a means of distribution, rather than an integral platform. There are also 'animated graphic novels' published as low-tech animation films on YouTube, eg 28 Day Later. These are effectively 'cartoonised' books.

A lovely and inspiring example of a graphic novel that exploits all the web has to offer is Nawls which uses sound, animation and scrolling to great effect. Another, this time away from the familiar territory of the graphic novel is Inanimate Alice by novelist Kate Pullinger. This is a really pleasant narrative experience. Everything coming together, the imagery, the music, but mostly writing that is appropriate to the form.

3. Enhanced eBooks

The text centric epub publishing platform as used by Kindle is capable of some animation and video, but it is pretty poor at delivering it. This is why the iPad was so game changing as it allows your book to be as interactive as any web page. Alice For the iPad is a lovely demonstration of playful imagination.

The publishing industry is emerging from a centuries long lunch into the cold light of an online future. They're scared and resistant and rightly so when they see what is happening to other publishing industries. A few are boldly stepping forward to grab the nettle.

A company called Enhanced Editions is a post app publishing venture that launched with Nick Cave's The Death of Bunny Munroe. At present they seem to be offering the audio book embedded and a few clips of the author reading. This is what we could call the DVD extras model.

An other approach is the Digi-Novel, discussed in more detail in the review of Level26, an ebook that offers embedded video and an online community to accompany the text. I have doubts whether offering TV quality video inserts is a sustainable business model for the publishing industry except in narrow niche areas. This is a TV producers' response to online interactivity.

An example of enhancing the back catalogue is The War Of the Worlds The ebook edition has the legendary Orson Welles 1938 radio version as part of the package. I've always wanted to hear that.
Kassia Krozser expresses a great deal of reasoned scepticism for the idea of enhancement and unleashes some interesting debate in her blog

Aside from Alice, none of these publishers have addressed what interactivity can do for the form of the writing. The book is linear because the printed pages are sequential. In a non-linear medium, why does the book remain linear? This is the real hurdle for writers and publishers. The next blog post will look at Transmedia Books and Hypertext literature.

This blog was moved in January 2016 from it's original location on where it had received 70 views.

Rik Lander

Rik Lander makes interactive and participatory narratives. Website

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