Saturday, 28 February 2009

write to reply

if:book London and the Institute for the Future of the Book are both small think and do tanks which attract a lot of interest, so administrative overload can occur.

A few weeks ago I received a baffling email:

Hi Chris, I'm not sure if you are the right person to thank but I wanted to express my appreciation to whoever took the time to put the Digital Britain report up for comment on the web - fantastic resource / idea. If you are not the person, can you pass on my thanks to whoever did this?
All the best,
Patrick Dodds

Neither the Institute in NY nor if:book London had done this to my knowledge so..I couldn't accept or pass on thanks.

Then we heard from Joss Winn of the 'WriteToReply' project which has been putting public documents into a version of CommentPress, the open source WordPress application developed by the Institute (the second version of which will be available soon), and all was gradually revealed.

Take a look at the Write to Reply site,
and their hosted version of the Government's Digital Britain, a significant but underwhelming strategy which has also been critiqued in detail by NESTA's Charlie Leadbeater. You can read his full response at

He concludes:

"If the government is serious about wanting Britain to lead the way into the digital
revolution then it has to be honest about the scale of the challenge: added investment
in broadband will pay dividends only if it further disrupts traditional media industries
that are already being hit hard by the recession and which are more important than
ever to the UK’s future thanks to the crisis in the financial services sector.

Universal broadband will be essential infrastructure for the UK’s future. But even
more important will be the creativity and innovation of consumers and entrepreneurs
to create the social and business models of the future. Sadly Digital Britain has little or
nothing to say about these latter challenges. It is a route map to the future which
peters out after the first few metres."


Many thanks to Martin Colthorpe of the South Bank Literature Team for hosting this month's ifso salon, a version of our regular if:bookgroups held in conjunction with Snug & Outdoor, playground designers. The event brought together a fascinating range of people about whom I'll say more soon. We discussed narrative and play, looked at the Snug Kit and how it might be used to stimulate imagination, Simon Fox's Written World project and how he would like to adapt it for use across the divided communities in Gaza, and showed some of the amazing work being made for if:book's education project, including new work by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph as well as Toni Lebusque's superb rendering of Darwin into Second Life and Rosetti into girls magazine form. We also talked about the model of publishing we wish to pursue to which there was a very positive response.

I'll post photos and more soon, but it really was a hugely affirming event which filled me with confidence about the work we're doing, the way we're doing it and the wonderful people working around us. Thanks to all who came. We'll be holding another one soon.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

reading rots your brain - allegedly

This Guardian blog post about the relative merits of books and social media is a good example of an informed debate which would sail over the heads of far too many promoters and teachers of books and literature.

Talking to a group of school librarians this week about the future of the book and e-readers, I expected to be intimidated by their knowledge of new media teaching resources etc. but no - for many, their idea of a library was still essentially a room full of publications on shelves, though there was plenty of interest in experiment.

I was reminded when I tried to show them examples of new media pieces made for if:book's education project that YouTube is blocked from educational establishments. This is like having a library with no journals in because they don't fit through the letterbox; a huge chunk of contemporary culture is absent and thus, I fear, disregarded by those who are employed to be its custodians.

I worry that all the work i've been involved with over the years to promote the book has only helped to feed the current obsession with platform over content, and the prejudiced thinking that leads to moral panic and imaginative paralysis when comparing the quality of experiences across different media.

Can you imagine the Head of the Royal Institution suggesting that time spent by children reading and writing in their bedroom was damaging their brains and cutting them off from social interaction? But that's exactly what Susan Greenfield has been doing in relation to social media, as discussed on Newsnight recently.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

"a whole library in a wafer-like form"

The art of tomorrow: books

Kate Pullinger interviewed by Kate Kellaway in The Observer, Sunday 22 February 2009

"This may be the last year in which it is possible to be ebook or mbook (of which more later) illiterate. We in the UK are on the verge of extraordinary changes in the way we read, think about narrative and define the book itself. Already the US and Japan are chapters ahead of us (the UK is a relatively timid, conservative bookworm). This month sees the US launch of Amazon's Kindle 2 (a refined version of the handheld ebook as yet unavailable here) which will eventually make it possible for book victims like me to put down our heavy bags of books and trip lightly into the future with a whole library contained in a wafer-like, wireless form.

Meanwhile, in Japan, mobile phone novels - or mbooks (keitai shosetsu) - have become a publishing sensation. Some are professional novels, downloaded on to mobiles, but more startling are the novels - mainly high school romances - that are actually written on mobiles by nimble-thumbed texters and read by millions of Japanese teenagers. These tend to be written in mini-chapters, in slang, and peppered with emoticons (in which Japan does a nicely diverse line). Could something similar be coming to a very small screen near us?

If you own an Apple iPhone, it already has. Mac's free Stanza application provides access to online booksellers as well as 50,000 free out-of-copyright publications. Andy McNab, prolific SAS man and novelist, has just announced a deal with Research in Motion, the company that produces BlackBerries, to supply them with ebooks which can be read on BlackBerry screens. And Kate Pullinger, a literary novelist who could hardly be less like McNab, also has a project to get mbooks launched over here.

Pullinger is at the vanguard of the UK's digital movement. She is a reader in new media at De Montfort University and has since 2001 been developing new forms of narrative online. She finds the internet ideal for creativity because it is "impersonal and strangely intimate at the same time". But she is aware that not everyone shares her convictions. What has to be overcome are the anxieties people have about new media. "People are attached to books for reasons more complicated than a love of reading," Pullinger says. "The dominant fear is that the book will disappear. I think it will always be with us, but not too far in the future it will become a bespoke artefact for people who like books."

People worry about losing the experience of "solitary immersion" in reading, but Pullinger maintains: "Our ideas about what reading is will have to change to keep up with what is going on in a digital culture." She has collaborated on two works that give a taster of the possibilities ahead. They are stylish hybrids that incorporate text, image and sound and should be read in the experimental way in which they were written. The Breathing Wall ( is a full-length narrative using pioneering software by Stefan Schemat called Hyper Trance Fiction Matrix. You put on headphones and a mic which picks up your breathing rate. "The idea is that the more you relax, the deeper you go into the story." It is an exploration of the "physiological" rapport between writer and reader, a way of seeing how the "rhythms of the prose" communicate. Pullinger has a sense of fun (essential for pioneering work) and admits, with a laugh, that The Breathing Wall is "esoteric", adding that for about "50 per cent of people" it does not work at all - they get too tense.

Working on Inanimate Alice, a set of multimedia short stories, with digital artist Chris Joseph (, she learned (the hard way) how "light the text has to be", and that "images and music must work together to support the text". She likens it to screenwriting but says: "You have more psychological insight because of the text - in a film, people can't go around saying what they think."

Pullinger believes that the publishing of fiction in this country is in the doldrums, with its "top 100 bestsellers and supermarket discounts", and that it is only a matter of time before there is a tremendous digital breakthrough. And the digital generation will lead the way. Next month if:book (the weblog of the Institute for the Future of the Book, based in New York and London) launches a project aimed at secondary schoolchildren, with 50 multimedia works including an animation of a Shakespeare sonnet and a story by Pullinger set in a future country where there are no words at all. Stories do not come more provocative than this. And the project's teasing title says it all: "The Museum of the History of the Future of the Book."

Monday, 16 February 2009

a damp climax?!

Andrew Keen in The Independent writes about Plastic Logic which announced its plans at last week's TOC conference:

"As the insurrectionary Web 2.0 age fizzles out in a damp climax of superfluous social networking widgets, Plastic Logic might well be Silicon Valley's new thing. This plastic revolution-from-above represents an audacious attempt to finally kill off the already sick print newspaper and magazine. Backed by both British and American venture capital, Plastic Logic, which owns over a hundred patents on its technology, employs three hundred people and is headed by former Hewlett-Packard executive Richard Archuleta. With their R&D facility in Cambridge, their manufacturing centre in Dresden and their sales and marketing HQ in Mountain View, California, the company's unconventional organisation reflects the audacity of its revolutionary plastic e-reader."

I went to visit Plastic Logic's Cambridge base two years ago and was impressed by what I saw, fascinated to hear that, although they could make screens as bendable as paper, market research led them to think the public demanded something more reassuringly safely firm to read from. Perhaps their gizmo when it arrives next year will be the one that takes us beyond comparisons to ipods and paperbacks to focus on what's unique about digital reading.

Friday, 13 February 2009


Here's a very first draft of the opening video from MOFOHOB, (the Museum of the Future of the History of the Book), an experience in reading designed to unfold with Year 8 and 9 school students and to be piloted this spring in 4 secondary schools. We're commissioning new work from amazing writers including Cory Doctorow, Michael Rosen, Naomi Alderman, Jacob Polley, Eva Salzman, Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph who are being asked to write literature of the future. Artist Toni Lebusque is rendering classic and contemporary texts in different new media formats from Flash animation to CommentPress, in Manga, machinema and more; poet Daljit Nagra is advising us on the selection of texts to include and web developer Simon Fox is creating a customised site for the project while I'm developing the overall story with writer and actor Cindy Oswin. We're working with brilliant teachers from our pilot schools around the UK with the aim of creating a package that will be freely available to all schools from this autumn.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

my place or yours...

Apples and Snakes, the performance poetry people, are running a set of real and virtual residencies with enjoyable blogs developing around each one at

Emma McGordon is with the homeless on the coast; Jay Bernard is in a Hampstead allotment writing wintry things in notebooks.

Monday, 9 February 2009


The PEN World Atlas is launched today in 'first draft' form and looks like a very worthwhile development in spreading understanding of different literature and literary scenes around the globe.

Traveling to Athens with the British Council I found myself meeting eminent Greek writers whose names I'd never heard of and whose work is in a language I can't even begin to read. Visual artists and scientists working in similar fields can exchange a lot of ideas across language divides, but a work of literature in one language is as meaningful as a brick to those without the vocabulary to decipher it. In lesser used languages, only a very few make it to the international shelves, and even when their work is translated, there may be lots more that should be known about the specific context it was written in. How can we find out about budding talents, the places they meet and the publications their work appears in?

The PEN initiative aims to help spread the word about emerging voices as well as the big guns. "We believe that great writing has the power to change your life, and to change the world. All the content is added by you: readers and writers who want to pass on your tips and create a new global community of readers. This site is launching with a focus on writing from the Arab region. There is a world of writing out there. Tell us about it!"

Sunday, 8 February 2009


Robert McCrum on e-reading in the Observer today:

Today, innovation diffusion is accelerated. Some say that "electronic time" is faster than real time. In other words, that the book is about to become engulfed by an "iPod moment" for literature, analogous to the transformation wrought on the music industry by the download revolution.

Who knows? Music and text are fundamentally different. But one thing is certain: ebooks are cool, and fahionable. In the US, Oprah has declared the Kindle her "favourite new gadget". Trend-savvy authors, who used to hesitate before leasing the electronic rights to their work, are coming round to a changed market. According to the New York Times, both John Grisham and Danielle Steel are expected soon to be adding their titles to the ebook catalogue.

It's already happening here. I have just received a report from a very traditional publisher announcing a surge in e-book sales for one of its authors. The name of this geeky new writer? PD James, the queen of crime, aged 88.

Pictures of the new improved, pencil-thin (so far US only) Kindle from mobileread

Friday, 6 February 2009

friday photos

James Bridle has taken some fantastic pictures of bookstalls on his trip to India.
Here's one of them. You can see the rest at

And here's a Russian monument to the keyboard, stumbled upon here.

is it a book? is it a screen? No it's...

News on the Brave New World blog of the latest innovation in publishing:

Martyn Daniels writes: "We were intrigued by several reports of a new format the ‘video book’. We didn’t stop to ask whether it was BluRay or DVD, but just wanted to know what it was. Could it replace MTV with BookTV? Was there an ‘Easter Egg’ buried in it. or was it all hype, hot air and a marketers dream to publicise the book?

HarperCollins has announced the ‘video book’ and the first to go is Jeff Jarvis’s. ‘What would Google Do?’ We thought it may be about the settlement but although some may say that would make a good mystery thriller, its not. Jarvis’s book is already out in hardback and also audio and now its coming out as a video book. So what is a video book and how does it relate to the book? Is it in author reading and does it have animation, graphics, actual film shots or special effects?

The answer is that it’s a 23 minute video of Jarvis speaking into a single camera with a white background. Jarvis talks apparently about the basic concepts in the book and that’s it!

...We normally applaud innovation and experimentation, but question where this is going and also the potential impact if all author videos and podcasts went the same way?"

Call that innovation? At if:book london we are working on a groundbreaking range of 3d Aromabooks, starting with a translation of War & Peace into a fragrance mingling classic scents with gunpowder and horsedung.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

if:book outing to blake's house

Tim Heath, chair of the Blake Society, who hosted today's if:book filming at the House of William Blake.

More at

kindling readers

Digital Books May Drive Print Editions
by Bill Esler and Jim Milliot -- Graphic Arts Online, 2/4/2009 5:21:00 AM

eBook sales at Seattle-based Amazon seem to be driving, or at least not hurting, printed book sales. That news was revealed by CEO Jeff Bezos when he announced Q4 sales of $6.7 billion, up 18%, and net income of $225 million in the period. For the full year, earnings rose 36%, to $645 million on a 29% revenue gain to $19.17 billion.
Roughly half the firm's sales derive from media—mostly books and music—and roughly half its total sales come from North America. Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos said that while the company expected strong demand for the Kindle in the fourth quarter, Amazon was surprised by how strong demand was.

"With Kindle sales, we see that when people buy a Kindle, they actually continue to buy the same number of physical books going forward as they did before they owned a Kindle," said Bezos. "And then incrementally, they buy about 1.6 to 1.7 electronic books—Kindle books—for every physical book that they buy. So, so far what we’re seeing is very strong incremental book unit sales, which of course we’re very pleased to see. The biggest surprises so far for Kindle have just been the unusually strong demand that we saw in the fourth quarter. We had anticipated strong demand, and what we saw was stronger than that. So we are extremely grateful for that, and we will keep marching forward here."

It is widely expected that Amazon will introduce a new version of the Kindle at a Feb. 9 press conference. The Kindle Store book selection increased by 45,000 titles in the fourth quarter, bringing the total to 230,000 titles. One hundred three out of 112 current New York Times bestsellers are available and, along with most new releases, are priced at $9.99 or less. In addition, the Kindle Store recently added The Arizona Republic, The Baltimore Sun, The Orange County Register and USA Today and now offers newspapers from 8 of the top 10 metro areas in the United States. Bezos said that Kindle users continue to buy the same number of printed books as they did before, but now at 1.6 or more eBook tites to their online orders.


One of my fellow students on the Creative Writing & New Media M.A. has been published in the prestigious New River Journal.

Michael J. Maguire (also known on-line as clevercelt) is an independent professional writer, playwright, screenwriter and digital creative with a diverse and unconventional educational background in engineering, electronics, theatre, creative writing and new media. His personal creativity spans over thirty years; writing, designing, directing, staging and producing various forms of static, live, filmed and electronic entertainments. Mick has consulted, worked with and for, many innovative European digital media start-ups and both major platform holders in the computer console games industry.He's also very warm, funny, intelligent and engaging.

The New River editorial says:

When we issued our call for submissions for this issue, we were looking for work “that merges place, history, and culture.” What we had in mind was something like M.D. Coverly’s exemplary work. Though we are astounded by the varied ways in which all our writers touch on our stated themes, Michael J. Maguire’s “Promise” is closest to our original hopes.

Structured in four acts, Maguire offers a deeply personal—and deeply moving—narrative reflecting Ireland, its culture, and its myths.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Naomi & Doris

I keep meaning to put a link to Naomi Alderman's considered final post on
Here's how it opens:

Final thoughts

It’s been a few weeks now since I put down The Golden Notebook, and so I thought I’d use this space to share some thoughts and ideas I’ve been mulling over since our project came to an end.

It’s really been a fascinating process for me. Reading a book and discussing it with a group during the reading is an experience I haven’t had since English A-level at 18 years old. The excitement of posting a comment and waiting to see what response it got was immense. Making reading truly social - unlike book clubs, where one’s often half-forgotten the book by the time the club night comes round - was wonderful. I want to do it again, with other books.

The project has also caused me to reflect on my own feminism. Of course, that’s the nature of the novel, and in that sense the edges of The Golden Notebook are still razor-sharp. Why are women’s lives different to men’s lives? What is a true or authentic female sexuality? Is there hope for heterosexual relationships? These are still questions which get under the skin..."

Her piece concludes:

"So this project has inspired me to think through my personal gender manifesto.
1) Active pushing for women’s participation in our financial, corporate and political institutions.
2) Addressing areas where men’s rights and outcomes are worse than women’s.
3) Providing ideas about how loving, equal relationships between men and women can be created and sustained.
I’m grateful for that. It’s a lot more clarity than I had before.

And it’s also encouraged me to feel gratitude. I’ve been reading the work of a rather less spikey but equally inspiring writer this week: Grace Paley. I found this in the dedication of her book of essays “As I thought”:

“I want to thank the women who preceded me in this last-half-of-the-century women’s movement. They were early in understanding and action, so that it was easier for me and others to cross the slippery streets of indifference, exclusion and condescension.”

That is just how I feel too. I am grateful for all the work and struggle that made it possible for me to read The Golden Notebook and say “well, this part certainly doesn’t address issues in *my* life!” Things used to be very different; I’m grateful for the change. I hope my generation can make enough of a difference so that our daughters and granddaughters will be grateful too."

This is a reminder that it's time to evaluate the success of the online reading of The Golden Notebook. The idea and choice of book was Bob's, and there were many who thought it was a crazy choice for such treatment, but actually the size, reputation and difficulty of the book was what made the project so worthwhile I reckon. The site, built by Apt, is still there and being visited; I hope it will be available to be used by students and readers of the book for years to come, and will be enriched by many other readings of a book which I also found infuriating, compelling and thought provoking. The project has attracted a lot of positive attention - and questions about where it leads next. Your thoughts are welcomed.

Monday, 2 February 2009

ne(t)w(orked book)s

Found in a Stroud Green cafe: if:book associates Toni Lebusque and Simon Fox at work on Mofohob, our forthcoming schools project, to be piloted this Summer in four UK secondary schools. More news soon.


Found on Facebook - latest news of a project inspired by the Institute for the Future of the Book's concept of the networked book:

We are pleased to announce the winners of our international juried competition, “Networked: a (networked_book) about (networked_art)”. They are, ANNE HELMOND, PATRICK LICHTY, ANNA MUNSTER, MARISA OLSON, and KAZYS VARNELIS.

Each will receive a commission of $3,000 to develop a chapter that will be open for revision, commentary, and translation. “Networked” will launch on July 1, 2009.

The runners-up are Ele Carpenter, Christine Nadir, Mark Shepard, and Jason Freeman.

NETWORKED COMMITTEE: Steve Dietz (Northern Lights, MN) :: Martha CC Gabriel (net artist, Brazil) :: Geert Lovink (Institute for Network Cultures, The Netherlands) :: Nick Montfort (Massachusetts Institute for Technology, MA) :: Anne Bray (LA Freewaves, LA) :: Sean Dockray (Telic Arts Exchange, LA) :: Jo-Anne Green (NRPA, MA) :: Eduardo Navas (newmediaFIX) :: Helen Thorington (NRPA, NY)

NETWORKED PARTNERS: New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. (NRPA) :: newmediaFIX :: LA Freewaves :: Telic Arts Exchange.

LAUNCH EVENTS: Digicult :: Freewaves :: Re:live 09 :: Telic Arts Exchange :: Upgrade! Boston :: your name here (contact

More information is available here:

Join us on Facebook:

Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

"A networked book is an open book designed to be written, edited and read in a networked environment." - Institute for the Future of the Book


The view from if:book towers this morning