08 Jan Barry Cunningham reflects on the future of publishing
Another New Year heralding the end of books? Like silent film stars, Cliff Richard and cassette players, are novels to be consigned to the ‘has beens’ of history? Or worse, revived as retro fashion accessories for rich collectors of fine editions – more about the binding than the reading?
No, I believe not. And I don’t think that’s because of electronic readers, backlit screens, paper like experience or Wi-Fi enabled music extras either.
It is because of stories.
The power of good stories to move, excite and challenge is more and more important in a modern world. It is a world that clearly needs escape, inspiration and engagement to grow its imagination and teach it how to respond to new challenges. Media storytelling and the huge consumption of entertainment have never been so popular. So we must find new ways as well as familiar routes to deliver stories that engage our audiences. Familiar routes include the wealth of storytelling from books on screens – The Hobbit, Les Misérables, The Hunger Games – to visual adaptions of illustrated tales like Hugo, Tintin and Spiderman. Working with media partners early in a book’s life can grow these connections happily and faster – using audience response to build fresh work too with innovations like on screen links and backstory downloads. While these new audiences who have been brought up on social networking want to participate with their authors in new ways too. For example Pottermore offers access. This highlights how authors in the future can embrace fan fiction, alternative endings, new episodes and sequels using the flexibility of digital editions in fresh ways.
In the USA, Scholastic has pioneered multi-platform story telling where books, internet games and puzzles form a ‘real life’ mystery bringing new readers into our worlds. Here inexperienced and established writers work side by side to create a common core. Again a new kind of writing for an audience in which publishers and authors work as a team.
So I believe stories will survive, some in traditional ways, others changing in the way we tell them. But most importantly our relationship with our readers could become closer and more profound, as the internet offers us a new and vital connection between author and reader.
Of course none of this is new, as Sir Cliff would be the first to point out, the oldies were there first. Dickens invited feedback after his public readings, changed the plots and published his books in episodes. Girls were banned from reading salacious novels centuries long before 50 Shades of Grey, and Byron was a media celebrity before it was even invented. And probably this time next year we will still be discussing whether it is the death of the book but in the meantime…
…happy writing and happy reading.
Barry Cunningham OBE