Saturday, 21 November 2009

Back to the future?

By Clem Chambers.

Having worked on bleeding edge media since my teens I can't help seeing seismic shifts coming to the book world.

So I have been agonising about the future of books again, as e-readers start there inexorable march.

It has suddenly occurred to me that while the marketing structure of the physical novel will probably implode, there is room for a reversion-ing of the content.
Charles Dickens did not write novels, he wrote part-works that appeared either weekly or monthly. The book publication came later. This was because at the time, best business model for making a living in writing was serialisation, followed by reading tours. In due course the book format superseded that way of doing business and wiped the old distribution model out. Likewise the e-reader will sweep the dead tree novel.

There was plenty of serialisation going on after the novel rose to ascendancy, but the format waned into insignificance.

While music is still dying on the vine, movies are reinventing themselves with 3D and end to end digital distribution. They are cleverly plugging the levees breached by piracy in a drive to keep their industry alive.

With the re-invention underway of movies, that media has a viable business model for at least another decade.

While novels as books might be about to begin a slide into commercial oblivion, the model of part-work, key to Dickens, may make a comeback. Distribution platforms like iTunes give hope that new formats may emerge that can control or at least limit IP theft. Books with a client server element may provide another jump off point for a new model for fiction.

Its comforting to realise that writing is not locked to a single form and that text just might be able to morph itself to a new media format and thereby escape the maw of ubiquitous piracy.

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