FACT: "May 19t, 2011--The Kindle has been a huge success, no doubt about that, but we are continually amazed at just how big a success it has become. Amazon too, apparently. The company just issued a press release to announce that digital book sales have now exceeded sales of all print titles, both hardcover and paperback combined." http://www.engadget.com/2011/05/19/kindl…
PROBLEM: My fear is that when paper books are essentially extinct in the very near future (within 5 years, perhaps), when all the physical bookstores and all the physical libraries are closed, when virtually all reading is done on something like a Kindle or iPad, soon the very nature of a "book," especially of the "novel" will change.
Unlike paper books, iPads and newer Kindle devices are capable for not only displaying text, but can play music, audio, videos, and display pictures. Therefore, I worry that unlike present-day paper books, the future e-books will all include music, audio, videos and pictures.
Just think: a novel with its own "soundtrack," just like a movie.
I fear that gradually novels with text only (like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Franzen, Palahnuik, Ron Currie, Jr., etc.) just won't exist anymore, in the near future.
Rather, stories will essentially all be told in movie form, or in the form of spoken books with a full range of sound effects (essentially like the radio plays of former times). I think this will change the nature of literature. The "novel" as it has existed for the last 400 or so years will disappear. There will still be storytellers, but they will in essence become scriptwriters. Some are using the term "transmedia" to apply to this new form of storytelling in an all-digital environment.
Do you think a change in the very nature of the novel is coming, or, that soon there really won't be anything anyone will be willing to call a "novel" anymore? If you think this is coming, does this bother you?
Before long, there will be people who will never see a physical paper book, except in a museum perhaps, just as today there people alive in America who've never seen a typewriter, or ever even heard of one.
I fear we are on the verge of a warping shift and revolution in media production and consumption that will surpass anything presented even in Chuck Palahnuik's disturbing transgressive novels.
I, for one, do not yet have a Kindle, but am planning to buy one for travel soon. I think "tricking up" the novel will be effective and will be just another outlet for writers. Imagine what will happen with the graphic novel! I think the novel in the traditional sense will always exist, as will the printed book, albeit in far fewer numbers. I love dog-earing a book and highlighting phrases I like and jotting things down that I want to look into further or examples of writing that appeal to me to emulate. You just can't do this in the same way with an e-book of some kind. I will probably get both for different novels and even nonfiction! Writers and publishers (and readers) will have to adapt in the future.
Publishers surely love the genesis of e-formats and will allow them to take risks on more writers because there will be much less in the way of investment. Those authors that sell well in the e-format and develop a track record will be supported.
I don't really think that the novel will die, really. I mean, the other forms of media you describe have been around forever, and they haven't killed words on paper (or e-ink) yet, and I don't think they'll do it any time soon. The books you're talking about will exist, and will probably be successful, but I think they'll exist alongside traditional novels, not replace them.
Publishing has always been in a state of flux--heck, think back to when the monks were handwriting Bibles and that Gutenberg came along. "All of the art of writing will die!" I'm sure they thought.
Okay-well, it did to some extent, but, well, that's not my point.
My point is, we can't fear the death of the novel. We should understand that it is undergoing a change. As Dr. Brett mentioned, e-formats means more are going to publish than ever before. It'll be cheaper and faster. And it means that readers will find more tales in line with their tastes. Death of the novel? Nah. Just a tweak.
You've given me something to ponder more about, but, at this time, I can't say I'm bothered. I'm truly curious to see where this is all going to go.
After seeing what's occurred with the music industry, I definitely think it's vital for the literary world to adapt or die, to put it in harsh terms. We see economically what's working, and digital works for so many different reasons.
I had an entire wall covered in bookshelves and paper books. Until I moved all my stuff from Hawaii to Seattle. Getting that load over was not an option. The ebook route saved me hundreds in shipping costs. Most of the classics are available for free because they are out of copyright and we're not paying for the cost of printing.
I think that if we play it right, we can look optimistically at ebook publishing, and disseminate all the great works in a cheaper, more environmentally sound way. But it all depends on who's doing the distributing.
Remember when Amazon remotely deleted copies of Orwell from the Kindle? That was definitely an example of how ebooks can go wrong. We need to make sure to keep companies like Amazon in check, so they don't take ebooks down an unfortunate path.
i dont see print media dying. remember that the majority of books sold today are mass market paperback type titles, fad biographies, and christian self-help books. what i see the e-publishing market doing is putting an end to that... and maybe to seeing hundreds of copies of thousand page harry plopper novels gathering dust in the racks of your local bookseller.
i do have an e-reader, and i just ordered the kindle fire, but im also banking on them to save me some cash on my college textbooks (in one class alone, last year it cost me over 300 bucks in "graphic novels") i still dont see my e-reader replacing my bookshelf, because i have a need to own things, and not just in a theoretical sense of the word.
part of the problem is, as i said, the over-production of books by steven tyler and snookie, but the other problem is the precieved worthlessness of used books. remember that 300 dollar set of graphic novels? powells offered me $26 bucks (store credit) for them. and they didnt want to take the norton anthology volume C, because the other two sell better.... even though they're taught as a set, go figure...
people, in my opinion are going to be more likely to go with the cheapest option, because it isnt worth their time to buy a book they arent going to want to keep on their shelf, or give to their friends, when you can barely get ten percent of the value out of them on the back end.
Is anyone familiar with a trend going on in Japan? A new literature movement, cell phone novels. It's an interesting topic to read up on. They were inspired by text messages. Sales have risen, and some believe that is due to the lack of attention this younger generation holds, along with the idea that retaining information is harder to do because of modern technology. Any thoughts?
i have heard of that, plot blurbs of classic novels. i dont remember if this was a daily service or not, but i thought it was interesting, and might prompt people to read a book they might not otherwise.
i havent heard of, or seen, or condone whole novels.
No no, never a whole novel. Chapters are one-hundred to two-hundred words. It is in the same field as fan fiction.
Imagine this scenario: It is the 15th Century and this upstart German is having ideas about some sort of press for printing but many naysayers are concerned this will put Monks out of work handwriting Bibles and be the final blow to the once proud Papyrus Scroll industry.
In short, I think you worry too much. I hate to say this, because I am not a kindle owner and I love the feel of real books, but it is environmentally a positive step. It also enables a significantly larger distribution, both as prices fall and the internet makes international communications easy. In any event I do not forsee paper books being seen as really old fashioned until the end of our generation at least so don't worry about it really "abolishing" print media.
Maybe it will bring changes to the way novels are written and read, in fact it probably will. But this is neither unprecedented nor, in my opinion, unwelcome.
also, the music industry has said vinyl was a thing of the past since the invention of cassette tapes. they're still alive. i just got the newest REM album on 180 grains, so take that for whatever you want, but i think books will stay around in the same way records have. especially with some authors like sherman alexie refusing to ever support electronic publishing of their works.
When the television was first released there was concern that people would not be able to concentrate on the "moving pictures" because of their peripheral vision. Some thought that there would be too many distractions to focus on their set.
They said television would be the end of cinema, which if we were living in the 50's, would make sense; TV gives us the same but at home. But cinema has survived far longer than anyone would have dreamed.
If ebooks become the standard model then I see the printed word becoming a fashionable accessory for your favourite authors.
Things also go in trends. As with ebooks merging with music etc. I can see some of us becoming a little over saturated with media. Isn't that why books are great, they take us away from all the noise. People will more and more want to shut out the noise and go back to something basic.
A lot of physical media will be digitized - CDs DVDs novels, etc... In most cases of the written story, it doesn't matter if it's on bound paper or on a screen (aside from the different types of strain on the eyes). There are exceptions, IMO, which depend on the physical book medium: Graphic novels. I include the works of fiction "House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danielewski and most of the works of B. S. Johnson, because they both rely on the relationship of the text to the page (in Johnson's "Albert Angelo" there's are two physical holes cut in the pages - well, there were. The version I ordered online didn't have them - I had to cut them myself).
There's also the environmental consideration. Although the current pulp industry is pretty bad, so is the creation of all these technological marvels. As long as the whole digital infrastructure remains intact, then the physical novel will fall to the background. As soon as electricity, rare earth metals or whatever start to wane, you can bet we'll be printing our stories on hemp or bamboo or something.
And there's always the oral tale - our oldest version of the story. The rest are just different media (which is the message).
In any case, I like my booky-wooks.
Print isn't even close to dying yet. There are too many people (myself included) who just aren't into e-readers.
The potential for change in how people read novels doesn't concern me nearly as much as the possibility someday paper books will just stop being printed. There are a whole lot of people out there who can't afford to spend money on e-readers. I think society will probably figure out some way to deal with that but the idea of books being totally unavailable to the poor is just nightmarish.
e-reader technology will, like other tech, become super cheap. Look at cell phones now versus cell phones fifteen years ago--yes, the high-end models are still expensive, the bare-bones models aren't even worth repairing. Hell, I don't even know why we still call them "phones" when they've clearly transcended that label.
The real question here is not if technology will be the death of the novel, but how the advent and popularity of digital literature will change the novel. Color and sound didn't kill cinema, they changed it. I think there's a lot of potential with where novels can go. I wouldn't be surprised if storytelling were to head in a direction similar to that of YouTube. Will there always be a market for paper-print novel purists? Vinyl enthusiasts still make records.
The world is speeding up and condensing. Handwriting classes are being taken put of school curriculums to be replaced with typing classes. Reading is (for most people) slow and much more engaging than they are used to. Film has made entertainment and storytelling much more passive, which is why films like Inception, which required the audience to do some leg work, have such an impact. The world doesn't write dense lyrical poetry with extended metephors and high language like To His Coy Mistress. Had we but world enough and time, we could all sit down and spend our evenings reading engaging, thoughtful works. But book groups exist and meet once a week for a reason; most people need a lot more time and incentive to read than to watch reruns of Keeping up with the Kardashians. So, in a flashy, high-speed, high-tech future of tomorrow, how do you sell the idea of appreciating craft?
Whether or not print is in jeopardy, I don't know, but I can offer some observations. I talk to people who say they read all the time, but they really just listen to audio books while working or as they go to bed. I don't know if that qualifies as reading. I consider reading to be dedicating 100 percent of your focus to the material. The whole point of an audio book is so you can do something else while reading (audiobooks used to be just for the blind).
Audiobooks seem to be as threatening to print as much as ebooks. Reading print is more enjoyable for me, but I can see the environmental concerns and the practicality of e-books and audiobooks.
As an illustrator, I know that independent comic artists have a stigma against web comic guys because the printed published comic is seen as a more glamorous achievement. When I work for clients, I dislike my stuff only being used in online versions of what is supposed to be print, like for editorials illustrations. I even publish my own work into prints and products.
My work sells decently, but I can say without a doubt that the online publishing of my work on blogs and forums like twitter, facebook, tumblr, etc are the main driving force. If it wasn't for that, I would not be seeing the kinds of sales I do. The maount of people buying my work because they saw it at someone's house is almost non existent compared to the people who saw it online and bought it.
The point that I am trying to make is that I can see how electronic publishing has the potential to push the demand for printed material.
The Stephen King discussion reminds me of this. Or did this remind us of the King thing.
Five years? We got the Nostradamus of literature over here.
If you subscribe to the Olduvai Theory [http://dieoff.org/page125.htm], then all these battery-powered readers go by the wayside too...
Let's not forget what incredible technological perfection The Book is...
[let's assume that all the books aren't burned for fuel after the end of the Industrial Age]
Technically, the e-reader is only an improvement on the paperback due to storage capacity. Nothing else about it is remotely different. We are a long way from the death of print. Radio didn't kill it. Television didn't, neither did video games or the internet. People still buy books, either paper or e-book, and they always will.
I do think you will start seeing more supplemental stuff with e-books that somehow leads to more interaction with the book itself, sort of like a special features kind of thing.
The novel format will start trending shorter. Already seems to be, to me. More novellas and short stories will be published for sale individually. It's an accelerated model, and people want to get more content out there more immediately (or maybe that's only a short-term reaction to its immediacy compared to traditional publishing timelines). The editorial process will suffer some as a result. Fewer blurbs and ARCs, too, as they're often a slowing factor.
Of course there'll be more mixed-media content as mentioned, whether it's interactive or value-added with special features and whatnot. But I still like the novel format (whether e- or print) as text-only because I can read something by eye about three times faster than it's delivered via sound or video. And the way the reader paints the scenes for themselves in their mind will always keep the written word attractive.
Change is a coming and with that change offers some really cool opportunities and ways to present a story. I embrace that.
With that said, I'm a physical media guy. Lots of people are. I will ALWAYS buy books and have a collection. That niche market will always exist, even if the majority of the populace moves towards digital. Example, look at the music industry? Vinyl sales have been increasing over the last 5 years for myriad of reasons. But it goes to show that physical media is in demand within a niche crowd.
I can't watch this video because the internet discriminates against Canada, but I remember seeing this when it first aired and it was interesting:
@Gordon; I actually think the prevalance of e-Readers and online books will help lead to an increase in the length of the average novel, I think publishers will be more willing to take a chance on a longer manuscript if it only means the difference of a couple of kBs as opposed to thousands of pieces of paper.
I could see where that may be true of established authors in the traditional system, a loosening of their reins, maybe less editorial meddling. But aren't younger authors already writing shorter novels? Likely due to the more immediate gratification they're used to with online media, the influence of film, etc. And then factor in the self-publishers and novellas and all that, I'd think that would bring the average down. Even talking novels-only, I would still guess shorter, though it's an uninformed opinion. Their average page-count published per year, though? Gotta be way up, yes. More products but with less content each.
As a young writer, I can only speak for myself and say that I personally love nothing more than a good 800-page epic, and to write one of my own seems like an awesome and fulfilling experience, but you're right, in a world full of distractions, brevity does become a selling point. I just believe that the eBook revolution will help do away with the notion that long novels are undesirable to publishers because they cost more to print and take up more space on a bookshelf.
P.S.: Confederacy of Dunces. Amazing.
I prefer books around or under 200 pages. Though I just as easily find books I love that are 800 pages, the short books I think ties a lot into my genre preferences.
Novels aren't going to change so drastically. Maybe somewhat structurally, but mostly just in experimentation. They're not going to become movies or audioplays, those things already exist and that would make novels not be novels. Novels do their own thing and that's why people still read them. I would be interested to see how it affects the actual writing and perception of the text in the next generation of writers, like mentioned the short/long pagecount or it may have noticable effects of plot pace/structure. What are their expectations of the novel going to be?
The internet already upped the short story market, we can see the quicker pace of output in mass-market writers. I expect to see even more serialized fiction than I have already in the past couple years. Maybe more interactive fiction, whatever that is or might entail.
It's a new era of pulp fiction. Or pulp-free fiction, maybe. Recycle bin fiction.