hopes and fears for books in the digital age

"There can't be many writers who don't enjoy a little frisson when they open that box from the publisher which contains the first, pristine copies of their latest book. And I feel a similar anticipatory thrill on parting the covers of anything I'm really keen to start reading. A fetish perhaps, but a common one and not something that's going to disappear overnight just because more people have more computers. The use of digital media enables the transfer of boundless numbers of words which used to be stuck on a page, and offers countless opportunities to explore, amend, modify, amplify and share. Unsurprisingly, the results range from completely rubbish to astoundingly good. Eventually, I suspect that writers and readers (and if we are to have wreaders, will there also be riters?) will use the new technologies in two main ways: to plug gaps in the current literature scene - for example, new short story collections are notoriously hard to sell while online short story sites are thriving - and to experiment with the kind of techniques we like to mess about with in workshops or at our desks, only at a more public and speedy level. Public and speedy can translate as accessible and effective, or exposed and ill-formed. That's up to us. Most writers put words directly onto a screen these days; the fact that those words can be sent through the ether and end up on millions of other screens as well as being printed on paper is a great challenge.

I love reading. Books are for reading. Ergo, I love books. I'm fascinated to see whether the next generation's syllogism will be any different. What's to fear?"

- Clare Brown, author

"I don't think the i-reader will devastate the fiction arm of the publishing industry as it has the music industry. The net is already awash with blogs a very few of which become books. This is a useful model. In a un-navigable ocean of writing online, the publishers approval and adoption will become a valued quality-mark. Any literary organisation that has a reputation for selecting and promoting books will have added brand value to their customers. Publishers may even market-test writing on their websites.

New Literary Forms? I imagine text messaging jokes or sampling audio of under 3 mins is about as good as this'll get. Within a written entertainment culture the value of books is their length. No-one watches movies on three-inch screens, and people won't read novels on them either.

- Peter Florence, Director, The Guardian Hay Festival

"I’m excited at the prospect of new writing that engages creatively with the opportunities offered by the digital age, that we think beyond seeing a podcast as an add on or solely a marketing tool. I want new forms to emerge that build on excellent writing and the immediacy of the live experience. In live literature the relationship between the performer and the audience is key – intimate and yet communal – surely this is what the internet is trying to achieve, I’m intrigued to see if that is possible."

- Geraldine Collinge, Director, Apples & Snakes

I love 'want to promote literature, not paper'. Absolutely right: it's story we need, in whatever form.
I feel confident that books in their current form will continue, alongside new additional excitements. Way back in the early 70s, when I started in publishing, we were told that no one wanted hardback books any more, but 35 years later they still seem to be around. I also remember that when video was first introduced we were told that cinemas wouldn't be necessary any more. Well, it's the video that has gone before the cinema, which thrives as a particular way of seeing film, alongside home screenings of DVDs. (It's fun that the cinema has now had to produce 'ads' to tell people not to talk or make noises as there are no rewind buttons in the cinema, and other people may not wish to hear the chatter of others.) So I feel that new electronic ways to tell stories will grow and thrive, and we will think of new things we want to put in the book format. The birth of one does not necessarily mean the demise of the other.

I look forward to hearing more about Bookfutures as it develops. We need creative minds on the case, and it will be exciting to see how it develops."

- Liz Attenborough, NLT


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