As a break from editing the bare breasts and sex out of my Egyptian novel Eye of the Moon for a US publisher, I’m reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Jeff Jarvis’s What Would Google Do? simultaneously. The three make very odd companions while I shift from 1500 BC to the 16th century, and then on to the digital world of now.
In What Would Google Do? Jeff Jarvis suggests we have to kill books to save them. He says they’re dead because they’re frozen in time with no means to update except by new editions, they’re a one-way relationship – the author seldom benefits from the reader, they’re expensive to produce, they rely on ‘blockbuster’ economy – few winners/ many losers, they’re subject to ‘gatekeepers’ (do we know this!), they aren’t read enough (according to Jarvis, 40% of printed books are never sold) and then there’s the problem of ‘returns’.
On the other hand books that are digital can be linked and updated, can find new audiences and can grow and live on beyond the page because of interaction and discussion.
I can understand that literacy may be ‘rekindled’ as a result of the Kindle and similar devices being able to offer a rebirth of books that are out of print. But I’m not sure about rekindling ‘visual’ literacy. The fact that we all carry favourite picture book stories around in our heads suggests a strong interaction with the page as a child. I doubt this kind of engagement and a development of visual literacy is possible in a digital format picture book.
So on reading what Jarvis had to say generally about books being dead, my first thoughts were – Why does everything have to be so interactive? Can’t a book just be a book? Why this clamour for digital interaction? Can’t a book, like art, or theatre stand alone? A work of art is still a work of art with only one person viewing it. How would we experience the ‘redness’ of red if we did away with real art and only viewed a Mark Rothko digitally. And theatre doesn’t expect comments to be thrown at it from the audience (except in Shakespeare’s times). Do writers really need interactive audiences drawing on the opinion of everyone, to survive?
Then I reread parts of what Jarvis was saying. And came back to the word ‘re-invention’ – rather than killing the book. What about putting the book online in full for a few weeks? Or serializing extracts from the book for a limited time? (some ABBA bloggers are doing this already and may be able to give feedback). Or putting up a free PowerPoint or video version of the book? (I’ve tried the visual PowerPoint route as a marketing device to get publishers interested but generally they’ve been lethargic and haven’t seen it as a tool to market the book publically.) What about ads in a book?
He cites Paulo Coelho who says ‘blogs’ have given him a different voice that attracts new readers. Coelho invites readers to make a movie of his novels or movies of his books’ characters (easier to do if your fans are adults but some schools have film and photographic clubs). He asked fans to take pictures of themselves reading his books for a virtual exhibition at the Frankfurt Book Fair which was also put on Flickr (it helps to be famous first). The suggestion is that creativity creates creativity. Find a relationship with your readers and you’ll sell more books.
So on first being anti the concept of ‘the book is dead’ I came around to Jarvis’s idea of ‘re-invention’. His suggestion that through the Internet, publishers and authors can reach a huge audience that never goes into a bookshop and can find new ways to bring books into conversation, appeals.
Right now I still believe in ‘print’ but anything that offers hope for the book is fine by me! But for the rest of the day I’m back to editing breasts.
My revamped website is at: http://www.diannehofmeyr.com/