was that really it?

Here are some photos from the mingling bit of a fascinating and enjoyable evening at Random House last night, who kindly provided space for our first if:bookgroup of the autumn.

The group included writers Kate Pullinger and Naomi Alderman, (Naomi's book Disobedience was our top summer read on holiday this year, by the way); people from Pan Macmillan and Random House – including Jonathan Davis who kindly organised the room and refreshments; Literature organisations including Spread the Word, PBS, Planet Poetry and the National Literacy Trust, and then some fascinating others with more digital connections: Tim Regan from Microsoft research, Bridget Mackenzie, of Flow Associates, and Mecca Ibrahim of moo.com who had blogged about the event before I woke up this morning on her amazing underground blog.

The theme:'Is This Really It?' i.e. the long awaited arrival of digital reading.

Kate P expressed her disappointment in the Sony Reader, a retro object which reverts to black and white (or grey) text in leather binding specifically to attract those trad booklovers who express such horror at the idea of reading on screens. They'll take one look at this, I predict, and decide it's fab, because these machines do provide crisp fonts and re-sizeable type to draw the reader in. What they're no use for are multi-media experimentation. Naomi likes her iRex which has wi-fi and tablet-esque scribble pad facility. The question for publishers is whether large numbers will be prepared to pay paperback prices to download new books to their gizmos, and I'm not sure what I think on that score. I like buying songs from iTunes even though I know I could probably find them for free somewhere, but would I rather buy a glossy covered wadge of paper or a grey/black byte of digital? Hmm... I don't know yet.

For writers the question is can they earn a living somehow and get their work read.
Few authors can live off their royalties so all are used to reviewing and workshopping to help pay the bills. Perhaps the web can enhance their overall earnings even if the cash earned from downloads doesn't add up to much.

Between publisher and author the literature organisations could be playing a real role in encouraging experimentation, but they need to be quick about it.

THE NEXT IF:BOOK GROUP will be at Jackson's Lane, the newly refurbished arts and community centre directly opposite Highgate Tube (Northern Line), on Tuesday 14th October, 6.00 - 8.00 pm, where we'd like people to come along with ideas for digital things they'd like to make happen - books, games, publishing ventures, literature organisations that are born digital and re-thought for NOW.

If you're interested, email me pronto at chris@futureofthebook.org.uk.

Sorry if North London is inconvenient for some, but to be honest I'm keen to find some people interested in all this who live near me!


Shani Lee said…
It's very strange, Chris, but since I've given up selling books, I have reverted to passionate reading. I've not tried electronic readers, but I am just wondering about the smell and the feel of the paper in books and whether electronic readers will have something better or different? There's something very kinaesthetic and physically pleasurable about reading a book, as well as gorging on the words, story and sentiment; although I also love the feel and look of my mobile phone, and the satisfying "click" when you close it. Perhaps, as with lipstick, designers and manufacturers of electronic readers will have to attend to these sorts of sensory details.
Dan W said…
The look and feel is all well and good - haptics is the term - but the rise in technology is, if not unstoppable, at least definietly going to make an impact. However, look at music - Ipods have changed music forever, probably, but what else has changed alongside that? A rise in vinyl sales. Maybe what you'll see is a rise in very nicely produced books for lovers of the touch/smell and the rest on potential download for the rest. I wouldn't be surprised if in 10 years time the Ipod/Iphone and a host of these readers are linked together in a deal so you can get everything on one compact gizmo.

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