Game publisher Electronic Arts was voted Consumerist’s annual Worst Company in America this year, beating out rival game company Activision and even Bank of America. Consumerist’s analysis of why this happened reveals that gamers are fed up with the publishing and pricing models of game content. Chris Kohler for Wired elaborates:
So it comes down as it often does to the almighty dollar: Consumerist readers, enough of them to massively swing the vote towards EA, think that videogames cost too much money.
“There have even been numerous accusations that EA and its ilk deliberately hold back game content with the sole intent of charging a fee for it at a later date,” Consumerist continued in its awards announcement.
Of late, it’s publisher Capcom that has come under fire over this: Owners of the new fighting game Street Fighter vs. Tekken have found that there are 12 characters already included on the disc that Capcom says it will sell access to at a later date.
To make ends meet, Capcom needs players to pay more than $60 for its games. That much is clear. But a $90 price tag at GameStop would be unthinkable. So it sells the game for $60, then asks gamers to pay more to unlock more content.
This is a warning to publishers of digital content of many kinds: an increase in technology costs will not automatically excuse price raises in the eyes of the consumer. Consumers have accepted that content is valuable, and they have formed expectations of how much content is worth. Games need to find a way to lower costs rather than increasing prices.
Labrintesto offers a Chronology of Electronic Literature that begins with Bush’s As We May Think. There are some strange omissions (no Ted Nelson until 2007?), but it’s a great starting point and a helpful resource.
“With digital now converging with print and consumer behaviors changing, wanting immediate acces, portability, convenience, low prices. investments are changing […] and they’re changing radically. Publishers have to change with it because if they start getting displaced in how they present data, how they provide access to data—and it’s not just books, it’s data, it’s rich media data beyond the storytelling—[…] all of this will require investments and a different type of strategy.”
Sure, he’s mostly talking about books and doesn’t talk very much about the kinds of “rich media” he means, or ways that the media might enrich the story world, but it still suggests that the publishing industry is becoming aware that stories might extend beyond the page and across platforms.
Last Friday, HTLit attended (e)Merge, part of the Zero1 biennial in San Jose. This turned out to be a fun welcome to the West Coast! The event spanned a couple of blocks and multiple venues. It wasn’t as big or well organized as Boston Cyber Arts (this is Silicon Valley, there’s no excuse for the event program’s mobile app to constantly freeze), but it was definitely fun, and from what I heard from the other attendees, it’s getting better and better with each event.
Manifest AR and Leonardo Magazine threw a nice party that was well attended. The caterers left with the wine right as things really got going at sunset, which was a shame, but these things happen. The party featured Datagrove, a lovely sculptural piece which combined trending topics on Twitter and text-to-speech technology to verbally tell users what was trending as they walked by. The interactivity was minimal, and the “quiet whispering” of “data streams from sources near and far” were distracting “Have you heard of [trending topic]?” fill-in-the-blank statements in a grating robot voice, but the beauty of the piece’s architecture and thoughtful lighting made up for it.
The Zero1 Garage featured some interesting pieces. ADA is a giant interactive floating ball that draws on its environment. If there’s a deep, profound meaning here, it escaped me, but it was a heck of a lot of fun. The Garage also featured Murmur Study, a beautiful waterfall of Twitter data on receipt paper; Moving Objects, a mesmerizing display of moving metal washers on wires; and the startling FREE TEXT: Open Source Reading Room, a large library with on-site printing to disseminate found texts on the virtues of open-source and the evils of copyright. I was lamenting for the future of author’s rights by the time I left.
On the street, Jacob Garbe’s Stillness, a great interactive program that transforms the user into a tree, stood out for its cleverness and fun factor. Garbe is a UCSC student working with interactive narrative and AR, which he demoed at last summer’s ELO event. He’s very talented, and definitely a name to watch. Other UCSC students Eve Warnock, Tina Mathews, and Colin McDonald delivered a fantastic abstract performance called Denizen that drew a very large crowd as the performers howled and (literally) whipped into the night.
My favorite piece of the night focused on the Pythagorean three body problem as a metaphor for human relation. Beautifully choreographed dancers performed a solution to the problem while wearing LED-lit suits that also projected their movement onto a screen behind them. The music and visuals were stunning, and I was even more impressed to learn that the performance space turned out to be much smaller than the 40x40 space in which they had rehearsed, meaning their fantastic turns and lifts and all the mathematically-derived trajectories of the performance had to be adjusted the day-of.
Tony Sanfilippo offers an interesting approach to the offline bookstore, using a model that incorporates the very forces that have undermined the bookstore we have known. In addition to the typical Borders-esque book displays, his bookstore includes a print-on-demand machine that customers use for custom orders, and sell subscriptions that allow for renting books or downloading ebooks without DRM.
The idea of returning to 18th and 19th century book culture with its private libvraries and custom-bound books is especially intriguing. Imagine students who could interlace blank pages into books for note-taking. Or combining a text and a critical study of that text into one volume.
Sanfilippo acknowledges that the model might not work, but it’s refreshing to see experimentation and thoughtful consideration in our approach to the local bookstore.
My critique of free web distribution met a lot of resistance, but rather than rehashing the debates of previous decades or arguing for extremes, it might behoove us to stop and take a look around. Literature is not the only form that is struggling to earn money from digital content; movies, television, music, and journalism face the same problem. Everyone wants content to be as cheap as possible for consumers, but we still need to provide artists with incentives to create.
First, there are the models we already have. The pay-per-copy system has been working for a long time and probably isn't going anywhere. Self-publishing will continue to shape the economic landscape and eliminate middle parties (wholesalers, retailers, publishers to some extent) but publishers should not be scorned or counted out. Publishers offer the advantage of polish and promotion, and serve as important purveyors of taste. As more people self-publish, readers--lost in a sea of works--will look for a shortcut to the good stuff. Publishers can help. Of course, self-publishing and distribution can also rely on pay-per-copy and as more people turn to this the role of the publisher may change drastically (perhaps writers will begin to pay publishers more as consultants). Or perhaps we might see publisher subscription models à la Netflix.
Free distribution offers different advantages. A writer might want a larger audience until she establishes a name for herself. Or perhaps her income is coming from a grant or endowment. Free distribution can serve as a gateway or advertisement for other paying work, but the key point is that the writer's funding must come from an external source. Much of eLit is currently being given away, and while that has short-term advantages, it is unsustainable to the industry long-term. However, there are other ways to avoid the pay-per-copy model and still pay writers.
In a fascinating conversation, William Cole pointed out that digital comics are often self-referential and interlinked in a way that suggests we already have popular eLit right under our noses. These have been very commercially successful, largely through the marketing of merchandise. This model requires a very large fanbase, but it's reasonable to think that even if Hunger Games were freely distributed, Suzanne Collins could still make a killing selling mockingjay pins and replica bows and quivers. Applying this model to eLit opens the way for interesting cross-over ideas, like selling an art print from a visually beautiful work, or offering paid copies of the author's notes.
Downloadable content or bonus features, as long as they’re used for good rather than evil, are another option that has already been successful in the games industry. I can imagine a hard-boiled hypertext in which the addition of another character’s point of view, thoughtfully woven into existing content, could add an interesting dimension to the narrative.
Another option is that literature might adopt a model similar to the music industry in that reading and writing might become a more performative act. Works would then serve as an advertisement for paid author talks or readings, similar to how musicians make vastly more money from concerts than album sales.
And of course, there's always the journalism model of ad space, which has also worked for musicians and youtube comedians. This and the related freemium model are possibilities for eLit. Or, heaven forbid, product placement (may it never come to that).
It's important to note that each form seems to be finding its own solutions, and different artists are finding different solutions within the same medium. Jonathan Coulton and Rebecca Black, though both musicians, made their money in very different ways. What works for one person, company, or form may not work for you. But we must assess what readers want and provide them with convenient ways to pay authors.
Interestingly, he views the founding of the ELO to be a reaction to the "Eastgate school" and to Eastgate's model of publishing. Rettberg wanted a better alternative to CD-ROMS for sale; he wanted "free, web-distributed hypertext literature." In his own notes in the wake of a 1999 conference, he writes that
More hypertexts need to be free. People like free stuff. In order to generate a popular following for the new literature, we need to work to make it more accessible to readers (I haven’t read any of the Eastgate hypertexts because I’ve been in graduate school. To my knowledge, they are not available at my university library. That is a problem).
Rettberg thinks that work should be free. More broadly, he wanted to change hypertext’s economic model. Eastgate's approach was based on the economic models of print, and while this might not have been the perfect approach, it did set the precedent for authors to get paid for electronic work just as they had with print work. Mark Bernstein was surely aware of the possibility that web distribution could change the economy of publishing. He also warned of the perils of patronage, the risk of returning control of art to the prince and the priest. For electronic literature, patronage is pretty much exactly what has happened.
Rettberg paints an enthusiastic vision of community building. There was a lot of money and they had fantastic parties, but eventually the literary world lost interest and the organization turned to the patronage of academe. In the process, they lost focus on the writers.
While in its first iteration the ELO may have been envisioned as an organization focused on writers and on popularizing e-lit, it was increasingly becoming an actor in shaping an academic field of practice: moving from something more like the Academy of American Poets to something more like the MLA, or perhaps on a more appropriate scale, the Association of Internet Researchers or Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts. This is not to say that ELO was abandoning a focus on bringing electronic literature to audiences and helping e-lit writers to build a community, just that the channels for doing that were increasingly embedded with an academic context.
This transition parallels the overall state of the field: most of the writing is now done as a theoretical demonstration by the scholars who study the writing. Little of today’s eLit is meant to be read by an audience beyond conference reviewers and exhibit curators.
The shift from literary to academic was not the ELO's fault, but it's indicative of a clear shift that has taken place: we're no longer focused on writing. We're focused on theory, and much of the writing is being produced to demonstrate it. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it is not inviting to groups outside of the academy, or successful in promoting eLit to a non-academic audience.
And why would the writers stick around? They're no longer getting paid for their work. There are certainly some very talented writers doing good work, but the proofs of concept dominate our discussions and attention.
It's easy to think of the ELO and Eastgate as two warring distribution models that can't reconcile how to provide authors with incentive to create, but surely there must be some middle ground in which the works can be easily distributed and studied, but can still provide authors incentives beyond a line on their CV. Free Web distribution has not provided us with the vast audiences some thought it would. The remaining question, as we see in eBook markets, is whether the price point is $0.99 or $9.99 or $19.95.
Alexis Madrigal for the Atlantic worries that with so many analog distractions – people, cats, swimming pools, coffee – we will never be able to sit down and read books. Naturally, the only reprieve from an endless bombardment of distraction comes from reading on a screen.
Can you concentrate on Flaubert when your cute cat is only a few feet away, or give your true devotion to Mr. Darcy when people are swimming in a pool nearby?
People who read books on paper are realizing that while they really want to be reading Dostoyevsky, the real world around them is pretty distracting with all of its opportunities for interacting with people, buying things in stores, and drinking coffee.
It's a brilliantly written article, one that leaves you wondering why nobody has written it before now.
Tim Parks argues for the merits of ebooks, noting that in addition to the fact that you can’t burn an ebook, they bring us closer to the essence of literature.
Literature is made up of words. They can be spoken or written. If spoken, volume and speed and accent can vary. If written, the words can appear in this or that type-face on any material, with any impagination. Joyce is as much Joyce in Baskerville as in Times New Roman. And we can read these words at any speed, interrupt our reading as frequently as we choose. Somebody who reads Ulysses in two weeks hasn’t read it any more or less than someone who reads it in three months, or three years.
Parks continues by drawing a correlation between the maturity of an audience and its appreciation for ebooks. They free us from the vanity and “fetishistic gratification” of showcasing what we’ve read on a bookshelf. They also eliminate the distraction of the material object, focusing our attention on the text itself.
In this sense the passage from paper to e-book is not unlike the moment when we passed from illustrated children’s books to the adult version of the page that is only text. This is a medium for grown-ups.
Parks has a point, but he does come off as a little condescending. Ebooks and tree-books both have benefits and drawbacks. They both offer certain comforts of permanence, one through physicality the other through ubiquitous distribution and ease of reproduction. Not to mention that the ebook still has a long way to go in terms of navigational ease, and in many cases even just quality of transcription.
And if the focus on the text is the virtuous, mature endeavor, on which aspects of the text should we focus when studying eLit, when the interface influences our interaction with the text more directly than the ebook’s?
I deliberately chose the very low-tech format of a photo album, trying to keep the focus on the stories themselves (but also knowing that Facebook would offer better exposure to a photo than to text). This also made the book readable not only on a computer but also on an iPad or a smartphone, and even by people that don’t have a Facebook profile, without almost any technical effort on my part.
This experiment is interesting, but it led me to wonder what a whole fictional account might look like. Sure, Facebook itself has already showcased one when debuting the Timeline feature, but only to tell a typical life story. What might the steampunk version look like? Or the hard-boiled mystery version? The story could be told over a whole network of Facebook Timelines, and the prominence of visual art, video, and outside links in the piece could make for something like an interlinked digital comic.
We weren’t entirely sure what to expect, and initially tried to closely model E-LitCamp. However, the group was very active and participatory, and the space was very good for fostering more informal discussion. Influenced by Alan Dix’s description of Tiree Tech Wave, it soon became clear that enforcing a session structure would only dissuade productive conversations.
The weekend opened with Bill Bly’s excellent presentation of We Descend Volume 2, which set the tone for interesting discussion that continued through the weekend. Bly’s demo confirmed that hypertext literature has indeed come a long way from the StorySpace works of old, while still embodying the very essence of hypertext literature. The text, like the first volume, is very much exploratory, and the spatial relationships of the interface encouraged an excellent discussion of authorial process—should form follow content or vice versa?—that became a recurrent theme throughout the weekend. It also raised questions of what should be shown to the reader, which bits of text are reserved for the author’s personal notes; if hypertext affords some overlap, how does it shape the work?
MIT’s Angela Chang demoed an interactive iPad narrative for children that encourages parent-child reading and interaction. The work met much adoration from the group, and spawned an interesting of how interactive narratives and interfaces encourage different reading and thought patterns, particularly in young children. Chang explained that children were able to recognize a relationship between text and meaning from a much younger age while engaging with the work.
Jonathan Brandl and Nick Apostolides starred in a dramatic reading of Mark Bernstein’s hyperdrama The Trojan Girls, an interesting spin on The Trojan Women that takes place in the not-so-distant future during the second American Civil War. The work argues that hypertextual recombination of dramatic dialogue can yield identical plots while changing other facets of the text (adding subtext, changing inter-character relations, etc). A fruitful discussion followed the reading, which examined the nature of reordering plot events and the relationship of constraints and narrative building.
Remix aesthetics and cross-media adaptation were recurring themes of discussion, seen in informal presentations of Meanwhile for iOS, Steve Meilleux’s 100 Days work, and The Trojan Girls. A reader takes a unique pleasure in recognizing familiar elements in a remixed work—discovering and recognizing implicit links—and there was much discussion over how much an understanding of context adds to a work. Other recurring themes included publishing models, sources for new work, the role of the institution in fostering creation, the value of criticism, and anticipating reader experience in the writing process.
Writing in Lapham’s Quartrerly, Chris White offers a thoughtful and educated approach to the perils that the publishing world faces—and more importantly, how these perils will affect the existing ideal of “literature” and the crowning of its next generation. He writes,
When we speak of literature, we should not imagine that we are speaking of some stable and enduring Platonic entity. The history of literature has always been about its highly mutable institutions, whether bookstores, publishers, schools of criticism, or, for the last half century, the mass media. In other words, literature has always been about the struggle over who would have the social authority to determine what would count as literature. Early on, this authority seems to have been the possession of men who had the privilege of owning printing presses and bookstores. In our own time, the most compelling claim to this authority comes either from the capacious bosom of Oprah Winfrey and her bathetic book club, or from the arid speculations of those Hollow Men on a publisher’s marketing staff.
White doesn’t subscribe to the “books are doomed” cliché, and he doesn’t idolize the small, independent bookstore; which he remembers as nothing more than a few disappointing tables of bestsellers surrounded by decorative bookshelves and served by employees who didn’t read. White disputes the idea of content and of the book as a platform, and likes to jab at “content providers” and “the techno-hip” to little purpose. But his concern lies in the idea of the bookseller as an usher of taste, seeing large bookstores, mass media, and internet culture as having the ability to control the institution of “literature.”
Criticism and recommendation are the points at which his arguments become contradictory. He focuses on the power of the publisher and seller to influence the idea of what is “literature” (and therefore what is “good”) and on the power of the internet to influence the masses, but doesn’t reconcile the competing ideals of literature as a high-brow endeavor beyond bathetic pop-culture recommendations.
Now, through word of mouth and blog site recommendations, some will find that book of poetry, although those folk will be, I suspect, mostly poets themselves, reduced now to a rarified species of hobbyist no greater in number than those enthusiasts who attend quilting fairs. (In all honesty, this is already a done deal.) But the population of people interested in finding that transforming book will become ever smaller. Literature requires a culture, a book culture, and the ebook and the web, for all of their wizardry, will forever be solipsistic.
Beyond this contraction, White has painted himself into a corner with the idea that taste is an institutional product. Though he doesn’t acknowledge it directly, academia is responsible for the very idea of literature that White wants to protect. The intellectual elite shape literature into anthologies, archives, theories, and syllabi, naturally preserving the notion of “literature” and assigning merit to work they have collected while damning rejected work to be dismissed or—worse—forgotten.
So at the end of the day, how do we find the good work? Everything relies on thoughtful review. We need more well-written, thoughtful criticism. And in the eLit world, first we need more writing.
The answers are not always as interesting as the questions, but some form a starting point for discussion. John Cayley emphasizes the role of language in “literature,” a highly defensible idea which seems to be in direct opposition to Hayles’ rejection of words as being essential to her idea of “the literary.” The easy way out of this problem might be a revised idea of what “language” is, such as the postmodernist’s idea of language as an empty vessel for projected and perceived meaning, but it would be an interesting debate nonetheless.
I would additionally love to ask the same (or a similar) group of scholars if there has indeed been a Great Fall in hypertext literature, or if it has simply changed forms. How do they feel economics factors into the present and future of the form.
Judy Malloy, its name was Penelope, edition for iPad, in press
As Eastgate begins to focus on making its collections available for mobile devices, I find myself musing on the idea of a digital publisher. What is the publisher’s role?
Publishers of the past provided the capital to make literature available to the masses, but today anyone can self-publish. In a market with such low barriers to entry, however, writers have a difficult time finding their audience, and publishers serve as marketers and, through selective branding, as crtics.
So if the publisher’s job is now to point our audience to best eLit, we need categories for judging electronic literature. Mark Bernstein pointed out this problem (as well as the changing role of the publisher) in his 2010 paper “Criticism.” In the paper, Bernstein explores a number of ways we have tried to judge eLit in the past demonstrating the flaws in each approach. What Bernstein doesn’t explain is how we should critique eLit.
One approach may be to go back to Ulmer’s ideas on electracy. In order to understand eLit as a form that incorporates many types of media, we must be literate (electrate) with those types of media, understanding their critical practices and how to interact with these technologies. If a work includes audio or film, surely a working knowledge of music and film theories are essential to a deep analysis of the work. With various works combining different media in different ways, a one-size-fits-all approach can’t work; you can’t analyze afternoon in the same way you analyze Alan Bigelow’s Web yarns. But understanding the individual components of a work, and how they fit together to create the theme, mood, tone, etc. of a piece is a step in the right direction.
Melville House Publishing has issued a challenge to its online community: make the best book trailer possible for their latest anthology. Even Melville House seemed surprised, however, when The Glossary fearlessly picked up the gauntlet and created a really fabulous submission. Though many remain skeptical that book trailers sell books, it’s nice to see a really well-crafted book trailer, and especially one focused on text.
Melville House was impressed too—so impressed that they added an additional prize for “Professional Video” submissions.
What impressed us most was how The Glossary paid such close attention to the text. Every line from this video (“sauerkraut eating civilian”) is drawn directly from one of the five Duels. The video shows a true love of language, something too frequently missing from book trailers.
Well played, sirs.
The contest is ongoing, and the prize will be awarded this September.
Björk has hit another important milestone in digital music distribution. Rather than releasing her new album as a typical digital download, she is introducing her Biophilia project as both an album and a “mother app” that will house interactive song apps. The Guardian reports:
One song, “Virus,” features an app that appears to ask the user to stop an attack by a virus on a biological cell. However, if the user succeeds, the song stops playing. The user learns that they must allow the virus to accomplish its purpose in order to complete the song. App creator Scott Snibbe describes it as “a kind of a love story between a virus and a cell. And of course the virus loves the cell so much that it destroys it.”
J.C. Hutchins is a freelance storyteller and new media author whose well-written blog covers interesting developments in new media and offers interesting interviews with other transmedia writers.
Hutchins recently published an article on the possibilities of storytelling on the iPad. The usual suspects are all there—interactive touchscreen moments, use of the iPad’s internal gyroscope, the ability to link to external sources—but the examples Hutchins provides all serve as nothing more than the kinds of interactive illustrations we might see in children’s books. Sure these technologies can illustrate stories well, but we should not be so limited in our approach to new forms of storytelling.
The key opportunity that authors overlook when thinking about new narrative technologies is how these interactions will make the reader feel, and how that emotion relates to the story world. Interactivity (particularly the haptic interactivity allowed by touch screens) can create a deeper connection with the protagonist/avatar than traditional print literature. We shouldn’t be striving for a sense of wonder and marvel at the new technology itself, for that will fade as soon as this type of writing becomes the mainstream. We should instead be trying to use the new technology to access deeper emotions in the reader: frustration, accomplishment, doubt, fear, pride, loyalty, and so forth. Games are already doing this very well. Perhaps it’s time for interactive writing to take a lesson.
Over the weekend, the Harry Potter saga finally came to a close, and I was on the front lines eager to see what promised to be an epic finale of magic battles and special effects. So naturally I was even more excited to see the movie in 3D.
This wasn’t my first 3D movie, but it brought me to an important realization. The title shot of the movie gives way to the opening scene as smoke obscures the viewer’s vision. 3D movies have an interesting way of focusing and obscuring vision that perhaps existed before, but was less clearly defined. The movie people know this, but they often focus on using it to make things fly at our faces.
Just imagine, however, how authors might use this kind of automatic focus in interactive literature. Imagine if Dupin’s purloined letter literally was in front of our faces after all, but we physically couldn’t see it. The technology isn’t too far away for eLit writers to be thinking about this.
Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians
, responds to Pottermore, J.K. Rowling’s announced interactive Web site aimed at expanding the Potterverse. His analysis touches on the difficulties of incorporating reading and other media.
When publishers mix reading with other media, the way Pottermore does (or the way that The 39 Clues, another Scholastic creation, does), I find it confusing. Every time I see more of the Potterverse realized in other media, as video or audio or even still images, it undoes the work I did by reading about it. It takes away from the marvelous, handmade Potterverse I've got going on in my head and replaces it with something prefabricated. It was prefabricated by a super-talented artist, but still.
The issue here is probably less that a new interactive experience mixes reading with other media, but the way in which it goes about it. The Harry Potter books were not written with these other interactive forms in mind, and attaching other media after the fact, rather than integrating them into the reader’s experience as a fundamental part of the telling the story, can be gimmicky.
On the other hand, it could be an interesting experience to see the Potterverse realized through new media. We have a familiar story that has the potential to take advantage of other storytelling venues, a situation that will be familiar to readers of Queneau or other Oulipeans. This might offer interesting study for the narratologists, as we see the remixing of sjuzhet and the effects of retroactively adding agency to a linear narrative.
With the buzz of tweets from the Electronic Poetry Festival (#epf11), the #elit hashtag has seen more attention today than it has in several weeks. Much of today’s discussion has focused on the representation of women within the field of eLit, with some prominent women arguing that women are not recognized sufficiently within the field.
What I think is the problem here is a limitation of shared language. Saying “eLit underrepresents women” is not necessarily true, if your definition of eLit is narrative-based digital works. If, however, you expand your definition to include other fields that the narrativist is not considering, it might be. Women are certainly underrepresented in computer sciences in general, but let’s not be too quick to make a claim without proper qualification.
On the other side of the debate, being able to list several names and even to say that the top writer or researcher in the field is female doesn’t necessarily make the field gender-balanced. There can still be an underrepresentation of women even if the women you have are extraordinary.
The danger with a claim like this is that, without proper qualification, a generalization makes its way into the collective consciousness of a group. Perception is reality; what someone perceives to be true is necessarily the truth to that person (or group). This becomes dangerous, as women who are aware of a stereotype might feel immense pressure that only results from that consciousness. From personal experience, I found myself afraid to ask questions and participate in male-heavy programming classes lest I reinforce a stereotype that women don’t understand programming. We don’t want to instill the same anxieties in our young female eLit writers.
However, if there are inequalities, ignoring them will not make them go away. In this case, we must properly identify if and where the problem exists. The most productive way to do this seems to be to identify a benchmark and assess how we as a field are measuring up to it. We need to figure out what we’re trying to achieve before we can discuss whether we have or have not achieved it.
The Ice Bookis a fascinating blend of pop-up book, shadow theater, and film. The work is a love story, brought to life as a series of images and shadows projected against a miniature stage made of pop-up paper cutouts.
The creators, Davy and Kristin McGuire, are interested in turning the work into a full-scale theater production, but the charm of the piece seems to be the miniature scale which emphasizes the physical delicateness of the work. The blend of old and new media is interesting, and might lose some impact on a larger scale.
Who says the internet is ruining our children? Some of the stories are commissioned features, but browsing the shelves at random suggests that some of the writing is not without promise. Here’s a snippet from Kyla Denae’s historical romance, “Sea Winds”:
Ann was finding that the Titanic lived up to her expectations splendidly. In fact, it far exceeded them in many ways. The third class berths were luxurious to a fault, and there were so many things to do and see, not to mention the people one might meet. At luncheon, Ann was seated next to a prodigiously chatty young woman named Enya Dougal and her very quiet husband, Malachy. He spoke not a word during the whole meal, but seemed content enough to let Mrs. Dougal do all the talking for him.
There’s plenty of opportunity to use your red pencil here(splendidly?to a fault? ) but it’s by no means intolerable.
The writers also design images for their book cover, and here their talents and effort truly shine. Some of these covers are superb, whatever lies behind them.
Edward Picot offers a thoughtful analysis of Andy Campbell's Nightingale’s Playground. The review does an excellent job of explaining the format and interaction with the work, and analyzing the piece. The reviewer is clearly familiar with elit and Campbell’s previous work.
This is the kind of thoughtful reviewing of actual elit work should be encouraged, and Picot's Hyperliterature Exchange looks like a promising source of these reviews–particularly considering that their mission is to aid in the sales of these works. All of the reviews the site covers are works that are currently for sale.
We hear the argument all the time that digital works should be free. The ELC offers a collection of free work, and many writers and creators release their work for free or on a donations basis. As a consuming audience, we seem to expect digital materials to be free or cheap, and so we expect our writers to work at a wage that no other industry demands. It's nice to see a site unapologetically promoting authors' work, and telling us a bit about it, so we're not buying on blind faith.
Practical and economic constraints of the publishing industry have long placed restrictions on the length—and thus to some extent the content—of novels. As the industry has grown more digital, people began to ask why we still had to stick to the same industry standards. We don’t have to worry about how thick a book’s bindling can, or what the production costs and shipping costs will amount to.
An electronic book should cost less to manufacture than a print book, but what, exactly, is the value of content? Some would argue we’ve never charged for content. Many readers and authors have called for more freedom in the length and content of works that should no longer be restricted by these economic concerns.
The economics of bookstores also set a lower bound. Shorter works – individual stories, lectures, broadsides, and songs – that sold well in the 17th and 18th centuries became difficult to sell in the 20th and vanished from bookstores. Enterprises from Amazon Kindle Singles to Murdoch”s The Daily are exploring this boundary.
The Atavist is an answer to that call, an app for Kindle and iPad that considers itself a boutique publisher of digital literature . Atavista is releasing works at $2.99 for a work that runs roughly 12,000 words (and will soon be releasing them for $1.99 on the Kindle and eventually Android). It offers an unobtrusive back-channel of multimedia content, and considers itself a hybrid between books and magazines.
Almost every serious gamer I know has at one point flirted with the idea of working for a game development company. Game Dev Story capitalizes on this desire with a loose story about starting a small company and making it larger. The player controls all aspects of game production from concept through production and sales and marketing.
Tom Armitage explains that the game "boiled down, is nothing more than a tarted-up spreadsheet," but that it suggests an interesting case of player-generated story. Though there is little direct narrative, there is (necessarily) an underlying narrative framework without which the real narrative would not be possible. The game offers suggestive bits that imply a greater story world beyond that with which the player directly interacts.
Players do create narrative through the small amounts of input:
In that little flight of creativity, the game opens up: the player starts writing their own story. The player isn't just typing names into boxes. They're saying the words aloud in your head - and that conjures images of box-art, screengrabs, scathing magazine reviews; cardboard standees packed full of buggy, terrible, detective puzzle games, waiting to be flogged.
Game Dev Story exemplifies a kind of mechanical storytelling: stories told not through text or voice-acting, but through coherent systems that cannot help but generate stories. I'm not waving my hands in my air here and making an excuse - "Oh, it has emergent narrative"; my point is that, in good mechanical storytelling, narrative cannot help but emerge. It's designed into the system.
Broadcastr appears to be a stealth-launch Web service for syndicating audio: Twitter meets radio. (Apparently there’s a geographic angle, too, though I don’t quite understand why I care where my story is located, as long as I know the language.)
What’s really interesting, though, is their audio prequel. It’s very nicely made and edited. Behind what appears to be nearly found sound – regular folks beginning to tell stories – are allusions to standup and storytelling, hints of sex and politics and religion, lots of youth and just a touch of music. Very slick.
Laurent Saurerwein, a new media artist who has recently moved from Paris to Berlin, calls our attention to Forgotten Books publisher of books in the public domain. Books are available as pdf and in paperback. It’s an interesting idea.
The execution appears to leave something to be desired. The very first title in the fiction catalog’s “Classical” section, for example, is John Oxenham’s 1914. Here’s the excerpt:
"1914" I T HE ~1.rly morning of July 25th, I9I 4, was not at all such 'as the date might reasonably have led onc to expect. It was gray and overcast, with heavy dev lying white on the grass and a quite unseasonable rawness in the air. The clock on the mantelpiece of the morning-room in The Red Housej ,Vi11stead, was striking six, in the sonorous Westqnnster chimes, which were so startlingly inconsistent with its size, as Mr John Dare drew the bolts of the French ,vindowand stepped out on to his back lawn.
Now, this seems indeed an obscure book, one that isn’t listed at all in (presumptive) author’s wikipedia bibliography. Assuming it is indeed the work of William Arthur Dunkerley, who wrote as John Oxenham, its a minor novel of best-selling writer, just the sort of forgotten book that might be worth a fresh look. (Compare, for example, John Buchan’s wonderful Greenmantle, published the same year).
But the excerpt has clearly not been examined by anyone. It reads as a parody of bad OCR. “Westqnnster chimes?” It’s the first item in a long list; you’d think someone would notice. Some of the other titles seem to be better, but not all: here’s the opening of Can You Forgive Her?
"WHETBER or no, she, whom you arc to forgive, if you can, did or did not belong to the Upper Ten Thousand of this our English world, I am not prepared to say with any strength of affirmation."
And, if you’re going to place a forgotten title in a list beside Dickens and Verne and Trollope, might you spare the reader a word about why it belongs?
I’ve just recently started Michael Betcherman and David Diamond’s Daughters of Freya, a serial email mystery about a San Francisco cut that believes sex with strangers is the way to world peace. So far, the narrative seems promising; 4-5 emails are delivered each day over the course of the 3 weeks the story takes to unfold.
The format allows for pacing and anticipation, but can retain the author’s intended schedule no matter when the reader begins reading. If you read a serial in a magazine, and you begin while the 4th issue is in publication, the anticipation is no longer a factor for the first 3 issues. With the Daughters format however, no matter when the reader begins reading, the story will always unfold the same way in real-time. The reader can't jump ahead or cheat.
Authorial control has been debated in hypertext circles for decades, but Daughters of Freya work asserts control elegantly, chiefly because the work does not make any pretenses toward interactivity or agency. This shouldn't be remarkable, but in digital literature, it has been a surprisingly unusual approach. The work’s Web site mentions that emails do contain links to fictional webpages made specifically for the work, but I haven’t seen any of these yet.
Daughters of Freya can be purchased for $3.99, or you can sample the first 3 emails free.
Andy Campbell of Dreaming Methods posted a nice introduction to electronic literature—great for students or those who are unfamiliar with the medium. More importantly, the piece has roused a bit of intelligent discussion in the comments.
I’m also interested to see if this blog, IF: NoBook (a direct reference to IF:Book http://futureofthebook.org ), takes off as a forum for discussion on hypertext and digital literature.
The Poole Literary Festival has selected Christine Wilks’ Underbelly for the New Media Writing Prize. Michael Bhaskar, one of the judges, gives an overview of a couple of the pieces and the diversity of the field. He writes that
Underbelly is an intense, educational, visceral experience, that delves deep into new media territory and transforms our expectations of what could be called literature. Exploring the experience of women miners in the nineteenth century the look, sound and writing of the piece are all magnificently distinctive and skillfully designed. I learned a lot “reading” and it hung around for days. This is powerful stuff.
Bkaskar underestimates how long new media literature has existed – he thinks tr(A)ce a precursor – but he makes a useful point that new media could benefit from "the market or at least reader focused approach of commercial publishing.” Of course, market-driven publishing is often deplored by writers, and is among the main reasons for having literary festivals and awards. If publishers and the marketplace made consistently sound judgments of quality, we’d simply read best-sellers and would hardly need the Booker, Pulitzer, Nobel, PEN, or Poole awards!
Monica Gaudio, an aspiring food writer, recently found her article about apple pie lifted from her privately-owned domain and published in a Cooks Source, a print magazine. She assumed that a clerical mistake had been made and contacted the magazine. To her surprise, she received a curt reply from the editor which claimed that rather than meeting the writer’s requests—an apology on Facebook and in print and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism—the writer should be grateful for the exposure and editing and should in fact pay the magazine.
Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was "my bad" indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.
But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me... ALWAYS for free!
The backlash on Facebook has been enormous, with thousands of angry individuals bombarding the magazine’s page with messages of outrage and support for writers’ rights. Griggs’ failure to apologize, condescending tone, and editorial blunders in her email all helped exacerbate anger at misappropriation of the article, creating a memorable PR debacle. In the way of a storm of Twitter and Facebook protest, the story has received extensive coverage on the Web and in print.
What fascinates me about this story is the editor’s expectations that the entire internet is “public domain.” Of course, most everyone in the publishing industry should understand copyright, but I wonder how much of the general population shares this belief. The thought is frightening.
A reader who is so deeply immersed in digital culture to recognize the preferred CSS layouts of one form or the other is probably also savvy enough to know that some bloggers do better journalism than journalists, and that many academic blogs are very highly regarded indeed.
Forcing a distinction simply tries to impose a digital class system without contributing any meaningful thought to the distribution of digital content.
IDEO’s video on “The Future of the Book” has been floating around the internet lately. While the video has supporters and detractors , the ideas for interactive reading it advances are better than some other attempts we’ve seen .
Yahoo! was looking for an interesting way to engage customers on their new platform. Toyota was looking for a marketing opportunity. Thus, Trixi was looking for her sister, Max. Participants in the PSTrixi campaign were asked to hack fictional security cameras, eavesdrop on voicemails, swap clues on web forums, and even attend live events for information on Max’s disappearance.
This kind of mixed-media narrative branding is growing in popularity, but I would love to see some research on its effects. Sure, it’s fun and is an obvious choice for Yahoo to engage customers by creating an Alternative Reality Game on its own platform, but will this help Toyota sell cars?
The Oxford English Dictionary probably will not print its next edition on paper. The Oxford University Press noted that a print edition would not be ruled out should demand prove sufficient. But with the third edition still more than a decade away, it will probably only be available in electronic form.
The OED pioneered research in hypertext and electronic books, and many features that are common today (or widely wished-for) in the iPad, Kindle, and other eBook readers were originally proposed in the research of Raymond, Tompa, and their colleagues at the Centre for the New Oxford English Dictionary
Nigel Portwood, the chief executive of Oxford University Press, estimates that printed dictionaries have a shelf- ife of another 30 years.
Janneke Adema offers a trip report from a recent roundtable meeting at Kingston University about the Future of Electronic Literature, focusing on a keynote talk by Jay David Bolter.
For a new media theorist, Adema seems strangely fond of the ghastly “snapshots” link annotations with their obnoxious pop-up thumbnails. A reader who is interested in “literature in the era of social and locative media” already knows what Wikipedia looks like.
“What unites creative practitioners and researchers," Adema argues, "is their exploration of the word and the abstract character of language and its materiality in different media in an experimental practice. The main question remains: why isn’t this work part of a more mainstream platform?"
The question answers itself: experimental practice in different media is, by definition, outside the main stream. If it were part of a more mainstream platform — the stuff that Pepsi does, the stuff my 13-year-old niece does — it wouldn’t unite creative practitioners and researchers in an experimental practice.
Bolter’s key concern here, in Adema’s account, is the centrality of literature in the humanities. At the Future of Digital Studies last Winter, he memorably asked whether, in the future University, the English department will decline to the place Art History occupies today.
Wojcicki cites an Internet analyst who offers the opinion that the students “…are just wrong. … just plain wrong. They don’t know because they can’t even conceptualize what is coming.” The implication is that these devices will in fact revolutionize the textbook market, but the students are not able to understand that.
Students do understand their own work practices and can offer a better understanding of annotation practices. This understanding should lead to better reading and annotating software. However, the unnamed internet analyst is probably right too. Golovchinsky writes,
Electronic reading devices will only be successful if their designers pay attention to what students do with textbooks, and design tools to support and augment their work practices. If that is done well enough, then the analyst’s prediction will be correct; if, however, the hardware and software combination fails to support active reading well, then students will continue to reject the medium as inadequate to their task.
It’s important to remember that learning doesn’t only come from the text. Several of my courses had online or software textbooks. These “textbooks” were not only texts, but also practice quizzes, linked references, and platforms to connect with other students. If these activities are incorporated into textbooks for platforms like the iPad (perhaps as apps, perhaps as part of a larger program for handling works like this), the analyst’s prediction will be true, regardless of the annotation capabilities of the software.
Of course, this isn’t an excuse for the lack of decent active reading programs available, but being able to highlight or mark up a page is not the only thing keeping students from accepting eBooks. The real issue is that eBooks are still trying to limit themselves to imitating paper.
Neal Stephenson (and a few others) are releasing The Mongoliad, a serialized literary project for mobile devices. The project will also include a series of extra-narrative content for iPhone, iPad and Android clients.
Not much is known about the project to date, but it’s billing itself as “something of an experiment in post-book publishing and storytelling.” Stay tuned!
At the recent ELO conference, Terry Harpold presented a paper on the eBook as a a fetishized version of the codex, citing the ways in which we have become aware of the book’s properties as a technology and have fetishized selective traits. Yet we still can’t grasp the intangibles that we believe eBooks lack. TPage-turning animations and the loving rendition of page edges at the border of the iPad serve both to represent and to remind us of the original object.
In light of Harpold’s argument, I was struck by Christopher Fahey’s interesting anecdote on reading Lolita in print.
And what delight as, finishing the third to last, right-side-facing page, I turned to the final spread, one-and-one-half pages of text, and unexpectedly found some of the most heartbreaking words of the whole novel, right at the top of the penultimate page, the finish line within sight: an experience that was both textual and physical in its manifestation. Was it the author, the typesetter, both, or neither, who constructed — designed — this neat, sublime, perfectly-timed emotional jolt?
Even before he expressly draws his conclusion, I couldn’t help but think that some of the phenomena of reading Lolita that he describes—your eyes scanning the page for certain keywords, longing for them—would be changed on the reader I use, since the page breaks change with the adjustable font size.
It hasn’t taken long for interesting reading formats to reach the iPad, though I must admit I wasn’t expecting anything beyond eBooks and perhaps Vooks for a little while. However, Alice for the iPad has landed, and faliing somewhere between Voyager’s electronic edition of Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice and a children’s game, the work offers something different.
Interactive illustration with a small element of puzzle-solving is a cute way to make literature more engaging, and it certainly does seem particularly well-suited to children’s literature. It also attracts media coverage, since it’s easy to grasp and you don’t need to read the book in order to write a story about it.
One could certainly envision an original work that takes these ideas and expands them, with the puzzles and interactive illustrations actually influencing the outcome of the narrative. The trick is to make the narrative immersive and engaging without the interactivity feeling gimmicky—and this may be harder than it sounds.
@BettyDraper has over 25,000 followers. She tweets about her favorite recipes, and blogs faithfully. But she’s not a real person; she’s a character from TV’s Mad Men .
Helen Klein Ross is the person behind @BettyDraper. She has 20 years of marketing experience and knows how to capture an audience.
As Ross explains, @BettyDraper was part of a campaign launched to keep viewers engaged with the television show Mad Men between seasons. The campaign used Twitter and the blogosphere to draw in potential viewers and to invite fans to help scrape out an online story in a deep and engaging collective narrative project that lies somewhere between fan fiction and marketing.
Ross presents her insights from the campaign in a fascinating series of slides that shows how companies can use collaborative fiction environments similar to ARGs to bring consumers closer to products.
It seems that many people have been looking back to predict the future of eBooks: the transition from radio to television, from horses to cars. But one place we haven’t gone is back to the year 2000, when eBooks were predicted to take off. Why didn’t they flourish then, and why, ten years later, are we back to the same place?
There were not enough eBooks to make it worth buying a reader.
eBooks were too expensive, especially given that many readers value content differently than the publishers expect.
The hardware form factor was wrong.
Periodicals weren’t ready to make the digital leap.
Poor marketing: marketers overvalued aspects of products that readers simply didn’t care about.
Mace notes that a lot of these problems still exist in some ways today, including the central issue of price. And since books are not “broken,” he suspects that they will not vanish soon. With the rise of tablet computing, areas of opportunity do exist in places like the short-story and periodical sectors, places that seem better-suited to digital form.
Charlie Stross asks why novels are the length they are. Not surprisingly, the length of the novel has been closely tied to its medium and economics since the Victorian period. With serially published novels, chapters needed to be short enough that they didn’t dominate a magazine, and the length of the total work depended on the author’s endurance, the publisher’s faith, or the (sometimes-short) life of the magazine.
The length of the novel today has been influenced by such factors as paperback originals, binding technology, and by consumer reluctance to pay more than $24 for a hardcover.
To add to the fun, when you take an 800 page book and split it into 300 page chunks, you do not get two 300 pages bits, or even three 300 page bits; each book has around 100 pages of scene-setting, recaps, and interweaving to make it work as a self-contained module. And stuff proliferates and gets out of hand, and you have to come up with sub-climaxes to make each book work satisfyingly as a book, and, and ... At the end of the day, the 800 page sequel turned into four books averaging 310 pages each; a 50% expansion!
Stross predicts that this model for pricing and length requirement will change dramatically with the adoption of eBooks. He also predicts a revival of some of the neglected forms, including a resurgence of the serial that is already underway.
November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has been over for a couple of months. Now, many writers are returning to the novel for which they sacrificed blood, sweat, and their carpal tunnel. Many are casually editing and revising for their own sake, but others are looking to actually publish.
The NaNoBlog as posted an interview with Smashwords founder and eBook enthusiast Mark Coker on why electronic publishing may be the most viable format for many.
An ebook author doesn’t need a publisher to gain mainstream distribution into the largest online ebook stores. Amazon’s Digital Text Platform allows authors to publish their books directly into the Kindle store, and my own Smashwords recently announced ebook distribution agreements with all the major online retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Sony. We also have distribution into the online catalogs of mobile platforms such as Stanza on the iPhone, Aldiko on Android phones, and Kobo across all mobile phone devices.
Millions of book buyers now prefer reading ebooks over print books, and this trend is likely to continue in the years ahead.
Of course, matters chiefly to those who have interested readers queued up in sufficient quantity to make publishing worth while, but cannot easily reach so many as to attract a conventional publisher. And do we know that millions of readers now prefer ebooks? Still, distribution is good to have.
“Who knows?”, opines Atlantic columnist Clay Risen. “Two hundred years from now, Super Mario Bros. could be treated with as much respect as The Brothers Karamazov.” (I’m betting on the Brothers. — ed.)
Though preserving video games is a relatively recent undertaking, anxiety about the permanence of digital art has plagued hypertext for most of its life. Indeed, it was this very anxiety that led the Electronic Literature Organization to create its Preservation, Archiving and Dissemination Initiative (PAD) which planned to deliver an open-source clone of HyperCard.
A fascinatingting article by Jed Birmingham follows the aging of Charles Bukowski and William Burroughs as they move into the computer revolution, focusing on how their work changed with the technology. Though the Birmingham is careful not to call Bukowski a pioneer of the level of Michael Joyce , he does note how innovations such the ability to quickly capture thoughts and edit/delete functions greatly influenced Bukowski’s work.
In late 1992, Bruce Kijewski approached Bukowski with the idea of electronic books. Bukowski was intrigued. He wrote back, “Yes, you have a strange project: electronic books. It might be the future as more and more people find that the computer is such a magic thing: time-saver, charmer, energizer.” […] But there are still reservations and a sense of nostalgia. The same letter to Kijewski continues, “But, still, when [the electronic book] comes I will still miss the old fashioned book.” Despite such statements, it is clear that Bukowski was a writer not afraid of, or pessimistic about, the future.
Occasioned by the opening of the Berg’s William Burroughs digital archive , the second part of article explores Burroughs’ relationship to the computer. It seems he did not use a computer to write. He embraced film, audio recording, and painting, but apparently he never experimented with writing and the computer to the level that Bukowski did.
As far back as the mid-1960s, Burroughs was aware of the possibilities of the computer and computer-generated poetry. In Insect Trust Gazette , Burroughs’ work appears alongside an early computer poem. In his interview with Conrad Knickerbocker in Paris Review, he stated that he had yet to experiment with the computer, but thought that such literature was valid and interesting, if it stood on its own merit. Yet as time passed — again, as far as I know — Burroughs never experimented with the computer. On one level this makes sense given the fact that Burroughs was well advanced in age and set in his ways by the time the personal computer was generally available. You might say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but Bukowski proves that you, in fact, can.
The sky is falling, the printed word is dead, and according to the title of an article by Ted Genoways editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review, fiction itself could be dying . Genoways argues that, as universities are butting the budgets of their literary magazines, the short story is vanishing with its outlet. This problem is compounded by the overabundance of MFA-toting creative writers.
It seems unfair to look only at printed quarterlies and assume that all lit mags are doomed. The article only focuses on the internet insofar as he seems to regard a journal’s moving online as a defeat. He dismisses the online community as the blogosphere from which literature needs to be rescued, thereby also dismissing the countless journals and fiction sites that actually showcase good writing.
Canadian libraries are taking advantage of social media through BiblioCommons, an online community aimed at users helping each other find the right book. An article by Alex Hutchinson in The Walrus spotlights how the libraries are using the new platform to combat the perception that the library is dying with the book.
Libraries might seem like the proverbial buggy whip makers, doomed to be swept away by changing technology and tastes, along with the outmoded paper books that fill their shelves. But that’s a misreading of their mission: “Libraries were in books because that’s where the information was,” says Kelly Moore, executive director of the Canadian Library Association. “Really, we’re about information.”
Adam Penenberg speculates on the evolution of the book and future of reading. Unusually for pundits dazzled by the Kindle and iPhone, Penenberg observes that the real future of eBooks surely lies in books that do more – not merely paper simulators or books with video illustration.
The first movie cameras were used to film theater productions. It took early cinematic geniuses like Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, Charlie Chaplin and Abel Gance to untether the camera from what was and transform it into what it would become: a new art form. I believe that this dynamic will soon be replayed, except it will star the book in the role of the theater production, with authors acting more like directors and production companies than straight wordsmiths. […] Instead of stagnant words on a page we will layer video throughout the text, add photos, hyperlink material, engage social networks of readers who will add their own videos, photos, and wikified information so that these multimedia books become living,
Much of Penenberg’s vision, while accurate, is not very new. When he writes that
A novelist could create whole new realities, a pastiche of video and audio and words and images that could rain down on the user, offering metaphors for artistic expressions. Or they could warp into videogame-like worlds where readers become characters and through the expression of their own free will alter the story to fit. They could come with music soundtracks or be directed or produced by renowned documentarians. They could be collaborations or one-woman projects.
he’s saying rather less than Robert Coover wrote in 1992, or Eric Drexler wrote in 1987, or Ted Nelson in 1976. Though Penenberg couches this paragraph in the future conditional, all these possibilities (and more!) have been realized in published works.
The article sparked some interesting and intelligent comments. Maryanne Conlin posts:
I do however have to ask- why veer away from the analogy in the article? I DO agree with your vision of the “ebook” of the future…but I also think, as we still have lots of theatre production of all sizes today….we will still have books published too!
Just because we have newer, richer forms of media does not mean that the old ones must die. Though computers can create stunning digital images, the oil painting has not been cast carelessly aside.
Women have been using pen names to overcome the difficulty in gaining a reputation as a respectable writer. Jill Walker points to a modern example of how one woman found that opportunities presented themselves in greater numbers when she took on the name “James” . She was able to create a successful writing persona, and built a blog on writing and design advice called Men With Pens.
The example is more poignant when one considers how machismo the site is. Walker points the obvious phallic suggestions of the title and title graphic as well as the photo of welding below it, but everything down to the gunmetal background of the banner and the brick background of the body suggests an inflated sense of masculinity.
It worked. The site is one of the most popular writing advice sites, and James was able to keep her identity secret for three years. Perhaps this persona is an appeal to the male fantasy of fulfilling some socially ordained image of success. Either way, her writing is good and her design advice is sound. It’s a shame she had to resort to this to receive the credit she deserves.
Rick Moody recently delivered a Twitter Fiction via several publishers in an effort conceived by Electric Lit to reach readers unfamiliar with Twitter fiction. Unfortunately, many people were following more than one of the publishers and became annoyed at the repetition. Some of the publishers backed out, calling the attempt a “noble failure.”
But is this fair? The story is actually pretty good and addresses how the internet connects people.
If anything failed, it was the delivery, not the fiction. Too many figures in the online literary world were too quick to jump onboard without considering the logistics of the delivery. Much of this could have been resolved through Twitter’s new retweet function.
But I liked the narrative. And according to the comments on Vroman’s so did others who were not aware Twitter fiction existed as a form. And those people are telling their friends about social media as a platform for narrative.
Instead of the usual winter fiction edition, this week brings us The New Yorker’s “world changers edition” . Editor David Remnick told WWD thathe change was mostly economic, and the ad sales for the new edition have gone up over 50% from the fiction issue.
Electric Literature is a quarterly anthology of five short stories per issue. Their goal is to distribute the short story “in every viable media,” bridging the gap between print literature and electronic media:
We're tired of hearing that literary fiction is doomed. Everywhere we look, people are reading—whether it be paperbooks, eBooks, blogs, tweets, or text messages. So, before we write the epitaph for the literary age, we thought, let’s try it this way first: select stories with a strong voice that capture our readers and lead them somewhere exciting, unexpected, and meaningful. Publish everywhere, every way: paperbacks, Kindles, iPhones, eBooks, and audiobooks. Make it inexpensive and accessible. Streamline it: just five great stories in each issue. Be entertaining without sacrificing depth. In short, create the thing we wish existed.
Electric Literature hopes to place the emphasis back on the story and not the medium, and aims to provide easier access to literature for readers and fair pay ($1000/story) to the authors they feature.
Lilia Efimova examines blogging as an ecosystem, discussing the connections “between people and online bits.” She offers a look at how these ecosystems are formed, how you can participate effectively, and offers great links to fascinating work on blogging and networking.
De Nieuwe Reporter’s Eric Ulken brings us news from Infocamp, an “unconference” in Seattle which focused on gathering and exchanging information. The article notes that there were surprisingly few journalists in attendance, and that the approach taken was broader than that normally taken by journalists. Ulken returns with several tips for online reporters to incorporate ideas familiar to information architects and online communities, including:
giving the audience personas to understand their needs
understanding that users don’t want what they say they want
A/B testing helps optimize content
Letting the community moderate content
The fact that journalism is taking notes from online sources is not new, and in a culture of converging media we’ll be seeing more and more examples of the necessity of cross-disciplinary knowledge. Years ago reporters had to know how to find information, fact-check, and write*. These days a blogger probably knows basic networking, coding, design, and of course how to find information, fact-check, and write.
Then there was the day Art Petacque and Hugh Hough won the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Valerie Percy murder case. Hough was a superb rewrite man. Petacque was our mob reporter. I don't know if anybody ever actually saw him typing, but he had great sources. He even knew all mob nicknames of the top Chicago mafioso. If it was rumored that he sometimes invented the nicknames himself, nobody ever complained. What was Joey (The Clown) Lombardo gonna do? Write a letter to the editor complaining that his real mob nickname was "the Joker?"
Petacque and Hough were a familiar team in the city room. Petacque would walk in looking like the cat who ate the canary, take a chair next to Hough, pull out a sheaf of notes, and start whispering in his ear. Hough would type, stopping occasionally to remove his cigar and say, "You're kidding!" Then Hough would write up the notes, and the story would appear under a shared byline, often on Page One. The day they won the prize, Hough was on a golf course. Petacque walked in, got a standing ovation, climbed up on a desk, bowed, and said, "I only wish Hugh Hough was here to tell you how happy I feel."
The 21st century was all the rage a decade back, but already it’s still hard to forget that we were at the end of an era way back then. But it’s really the technologies of the last few years have brought us sprinting into the new century. The experimental arts started the move online. Business and popular culture were soon to follow. Now, we all Twitter and Facebook, and old media suddenly seem old.
The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know Are just passing fancies, and in time may go.
Media seem to be emerging from an era of theory and of Theory. What comes after theory? New media, as yet, has no answer.
Brian Eno argues that the absence of data breeds theory, and we now exchange data in ways that were previously unimaginable. He raises this and other interesting points on our shift in cultural mindset,
We’re either at the start of a renaissance, or at the end of civilisation. Increasingly, from facts and figures and arithmetic, we’re building the intellectual tools to decide which it will be. While some shrill conservatives cling to the past, the rest of us are moving forward to something still in the process of being defined. That’s why, compared to them, we look a bit untogether. They know precisely what they don’t want, but we can’t yet clearly articulate what we do want. That’s the nature of the future—it’s a collective act of informed imagination. And the quality of information is improving.
Bookserver provides access to a variety of open formats. In particular, it uses ePub. 1.6 million books are available in the ePub format, making them accessible via Stanza on the iPhone, Sony eReaders, and many other reading devices. ePub will reflow text if the font changes, providing better adaptation to different devices. (Of course, this raises interesting issues for scholarly citation, where reference to page number would no longer make sense.)
BookServer has a database of Mobi files, which can be downloaded to a Kindle .
These books are also available on the Daisy format, which allows for the creation of braille and text-to-audio copies.
Other media include 100,000 hours of television recordings, 400,000 music recordings and 15 billion archived web pages.
Bookserver allows iPhone users to purchase books (via Stanza) directly from the publisher, not from Stanza.
Libraries can loan out an eBook in a finite number of copies, depending on how many copies of the book that library has purchased. This point resolves many of the legal copyright issues that arose from the easy duplication of electronic material available to “borrow.”
Mark Bernstein sends word of a fresh note on The Bundle of Newspapers, explaining why newspaper circulations (and not simply revenues or profits) are collapsing so quickly. He finds the answer in the origins of the modern newspaper as a bundle of information that the Web – and especially the mobile Web – has untied.
Now, these papers are not interchangeable; and that is why we have Mr. Pulitzer, who invents what we call the good paper, and Mr. Hearst, who invents the other kind. My mother is at one time a newspaper woman, and though she is a nice Jewish girl from a nice socialist family, she works for Mr. Hearst, who is not socialist, or Jewish, or nice except that he pays my mother very well and invites her to swell parties. I mention this just to explain my biases, as the FCC wants me to do. But all the newspapers are big bundles. This guy is a mensch and wants to read the Forward, and that putz, who is hardly more educated than a neanderthal, likes the Sun. But if the Herald-Tribune or the Sun or Forvertz want you to buy their paper, they need to have theater reviews and stock prices and pretty girls and the latest on pork bellies and of course the eighth at Saratoga. Besides, the Sun has Archy and Mehitabel.
The American Booksellers Association is attacking Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target, claiming in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice that the companies are exacting predatory pricing. The ABA claims that the companies are selling newly-released hardcover best-sellers below cost in an attempt to gain market control:
Publishers sell these books to retailers at 45% - 50% off the suggested list price. For example, a $35 book, such as Mr. King's Under the Dome, costs a retailer $17.50 or more. News reports suggest that publishers are not offering special terms to these big box retailers, and that the retailers are, in fact, taking orders for these books at prices far below cost. (In the case of Mr. King's book, these retailers are losing as much as $8.50 on each unit sold.) We believe that Amazon.com, Wal-Mart, and Target are using these predatory pricing practices to attempt to win control of the market for hardcover bestsellers.
The letter also notes that Amazon previously engaged in below-cost pricing on electronic copies of new hardcover books, although it is not as quick to cite costs on eBooks. It seems logical that since the production costs of electronic copies are nominal, a company could be able to produce electronic versions of new release best-sellers for much cheaper than the hardcover versions.
Nintendo’s recent DS release Scribblenaut joins the ranks of games that we would probably like better if we hadn’t expected to like them so much. However, this knowledge comes to me from a new game review site: The New York Times.
The big idea is that Scribblenauts includes a dictionary of more than 20,000 nouns. You type in a word, and the corresponding object magically appears on the screen. Almost anything you can think of that isn’t sexual, racially offensive or copyrighted is included. The concept is that you are limited only by your imagination in how you solve the various puzzles.
But it generally doesn’t work out that way. Instead, the interaction among various objects often seems arbitrary. I need to start my car, for instance. Giving Maxwell a key doesn’t help. Maybe I can summon a tow truck and connect it to my car with jumper cables? No dice.
A couple of his “frustrating examples” seem to forget that the game rewards creativity, but the important thing is that they reviewed the game and actually took a close look at what the game was trying to accomplish artistically—not how it sold or how controversial its content might be made to seem.
Amidst the ceaseless hand-wringing about how the Internet is shortening our attention spans, distracting us from more important things, destroying our capacity to think, and ruining our children, it’s nice to occasionally hear a sensible rebuttal. In The Tweets for the Web, Tyler Cowen offers such relief , stressing that while current culture is tending toward shorter bits of information, the result is actually increased attention span, as we are now following our specialized mix of our favorite weblogs (and other preferred media bits) every day for years at a time.
Cowen also succinctly refutes the claim that today’s multitasking society is made inefficient by a perpetual haze of technological distraction. “Multitasking is not a distraction from our main activity, it is our main activity.”
Perhaps the most convincing part of the whole essay is the analogy of contemporary culture to a long-distance relationship:
A long-distance relationship is, in emotional terms, a bit like culture in the time of Cervantes or Mozart. The costs of travel and access were high, at least compared to modern times. When you did arrive, the performance was often very exciting and indeed monumental. Sadly, the rest of the time you didn’t have that much culture at all. Even books were expensive and hard to get. Compared to what is possible in modern life, you couldn’t be as happy overall but your peak experiences could be extremely memorable, just as in the long-distance relationship. [...]
Today, our relationship to culture has become more like marriage. It enters our lives in an established flow, creating a better and more regular daily state of mind. True, the art world has in some ways become uglier, or at least it sometimes appears so. But when it comes to how we actually live and feel, contemporary culture is more satisfying and contributes to the happiness of far more people.
Roger Ebert, the movie critic famous for his thumb being up or down, has almost as many books as Eastgate’s own Mark Bernstein. I found out about Bernstein’s books when dropping by for dinner, finding that they covered most surfaces not occupied by the plates. Ebert recently described just how one can come to own so many books — including multiple editions of the same title — and why he can’t get rid of them.
“I cannot throw out these books. Some are protected because I have personally turned all their pages and read every word; they're like little shrines to my past hours. Perhaps half were new when they came to my life, but most are used, and I remember where I found every one...Like an alcoholic trying to walk past a bar, you should see me trying to walk past a used book store.
“Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant. Book publishers, for example, set prices based on the cost of producing and distributing books. They treat the words printed in the book the same way a textile manufacturer treats the patterns printed on its fabrics.”
It’s striking, when you think about it. A copy of Time costs just about as much as a copy of The Economist. 45 minutes of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra costs about as much as 45 minutes of The Beatles, or 45 minutes of Milli Vanilli.
“Now that the medium is evaporating, publishers have nothing left to sell. Some seem to think they’re going to sell content – that they were always in the content business, really. But they weren’t, and it’s unclear whether anyone could be.”
Graham argues that because people have never paid more for better content, there is no market for content itself, only the medium in which it’s supplied. So what does this mean for the future of publishing, as we live in an increasingly paperless world? Graham suggests a larger focus on advertising or finding a way to embody it in ways people will pay for.
i was writing a press release and in it disclosed how much money i made from the recent london webcast (about 10k). i gave a copy of the text to jason to proofread over a cup of tea (that’s what rock stars do for each other nowadays instead of leaving lines of blow on the backs of bathroom toilets). he suggested taking the money part out. he gently advised; he’s heard people gossiping about me and my shameless revelations about my webcast/twitter income etc.
right around the same time i got an email from beth, regarding the future of my webcasting. she suggested we do something totally free and not ask people for any money. she’s been picking up on heat from people that the ask-the-fans-for-money thing has gotten out of control.
artists need to make money to eat and to continue to make art.
Musicians have long complained of record companies stealing profits and stiflingcreativity. Palmer argues that there’s no reason fans shouldn’t give their money directly to the artist. She builds direct connections with her audience through her works, through performance, and through electronic media. Why must she pretend that money is beside the point?
it’s also not a matter of whether an artist is starving or cruising on a yacht.
i would hate to see my fans turn on me once i actually have money in the bank with a “well, i would support you if you were starving, but now that you’re eating, no way.” fuck that. accept a new system. feel ok about giving your money directly to paul mccartney. he may be rich, but he still rocks. show you care.
Simon and Schuster, the book division of CBS, have introduced the vook™, which they hail as a new form of eBook that integrates text with video illustrations. Of the vooks in the initial launch, two are fiction. The others seem to be what the platform is really designed for: instructional books, promising toned abs and better skin.
The fiction intrigues me, as I’m wondering how they would be able to offer video interjections without losing the level of immersion that print books and fully visual narratives offer. It seems that a Richard Doetsch thriller like Embassy would not want to interrupt its “page-turning suspense” with “dazzling video components that advance the storyline.” Don’t get me wrong, there are ways to join text and video together beautifully, but what sound like video cut-scenes to an otherwise straightforward linear text narrative seems like an awkward way to do it.
It’s a little surprising that none of the members of the 8-person Leadership Team at Vook.com seem to have come from the ebook, hypertext, or publishing worlds. There’s a lot of real-estate talent on view. Meet Peter Richter, the lead engineer:
“ Peter Richter spent the last 11 years working for the GlobalEnglish Corporation which provides an online English Learning service for ESL learners. There he combined his former experience as a teacher with his technological skills to help pioneer the world of eLearning. Peter brings with him the experience of create dynamic, engaging user experiences while architecting sophisticated data driven web applications.”
The company can afford a Brand Director and a Social Marketing Manager and a Creative Director and a VP of Content Development; they might want to get an editor to rethink that “architecting”.
Bob Stein, whose Voyager Expanded Books ploughed this furrow years ago, isn’t impressed.
“Basically it's an ordinary romance novel with video clips interspersed in the pages. In terms of form the result is ho-hum in the extreme, particularly as there doesn't seem to be much attempt to integrate the text and the banal video, which seems to exist simply to pretty-up the pages.
What greatly interests me about these vooks, however, is their accessibility through the iPhone and iPod Touch. I can’t wait to see what new and interesting possibilities writers can come up with using video, sound, and creative use of the touch screen.
The essay covers everything from the perpetual gloom of the book business to the psychological dependency of writers. Reviews are often arbitrary. You can’t get reviewed anyway, because there are few reputable review outlets left. You don’t have time to read all the good books that come out; You don’t even have time to find them.
Menaker thinks that books today are becoming shorter due to shorter attention spans. We’ve all heard this before, usually about kids and teenagers: the Internet is decreasing everyone’s attention span and kids don’t read anymore. If this were true, I couldn’t say that my 13-year-old sister read 12 books this summer (no, they were not assigned readings, nor was the TV broken, her cell-phone disconnected, or her laptop inaccessible). But the fact that books are getting shorter may be true even if his reason for it is not.
Which brings up an interesting point that Mark Bernstein pointed out to me: “how long should a salable unit of literature be? In the 18th century, people bought and sold pamphlets and even broadsides. What law of nature or economics prevents one from buying a novella?” Similarly, how long must a hypertext work be?
Brian Aldiss is privately publishing his new novel, Walcot. We don’t know, it seems, whether this is a matter of chance or of necessity, but it’s interesting; I don’t recall any really major literary figure since Lawrence going this route.
The book looks gorgeous. With 100 copies at £100 and 1000 copies at £20, he’s looking at a gross of £30K. That’s real money, but then Aldiss is the real deal, with an entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction that spans six columns and a mainstream following that regards his science fiction as a curious hobby of an otherwise-important contemporary writer.
Of course, this is facilitated by new media. First, it’s much easier to produce a book today than it was when you cast pages in lead. Second, you can promote and sell the book directly to readers on your Web page, saving lots of trouble and expense. (TLS reports that the marketing budget runs to ten copies hors commerce. Ten!)
In the Wall Street Journal, a great article by Terry Teachout on The New-Media Crisis of 1949 which details the decline of network radio. The music, television, and print industries should be taking notes. Sentimentality won’t save a medium, and those who embrace the new form tend to be more successful. Thanks. George Landow!
The interview discusses the digitization of writing, addressing claims that technologies like email and text-messaging are destroying children’s capacity to write and disputing the idea that computers and online learning will replace face-to-face teaching. Baron also discusses Google’s book project .
Mark Sample of George Mason University speculates at netpoetic.com about “Teaching Electronic Literature as a Foreign Land”. (An earlier version of the essay appeared on his blog .) The essay asks, “would the same process by which a stranger in a strange land grows accustomed to foreignness and even appreciates and incorporates cultural difference into his or her own life — could that process apply to e-lit?”
The essay discusses how the six stage model of intercultural sensitivity, designed by Milton J. Bennett, seems to apply to his students’ reactions to their first encounter with electronic literature.
Student reactions to specific hypertexts are often surprising. In Reading Hypertext, Michael Joyce mentions that students often seem to dislike Mary-Kim Arnold’s masterful “Lust”, though Rich Higgason’s study of “Lust” certainly demonstrated that students have plenty of opinions on the work.
by Mark Wernham. Machine #69 recalls Ryman’s 253, and especially Bob Arellano’s Sunshine ’69 both in its embrace of arbitrary connection and its fond nostalgia for the era when cheap booze, good drugs, fast cars and hot guns seemed to offer everything worth wanting and when nothing was worth wanting very much.
A new hyperromance for the Web. Sparsely linked, La Farge’s new hypertext nods at Stephanie Strickland’s design and to Michael Joyce’s direct address to the reader. but brings a new voice and sensibility to Web fiction.
Multimedia notes from underground, where a traumatized girl furnishes a cozy space in an underground tunnel. Script by Lynda Williams, music and code by Andy Campbell and Matthew Wright. A web work that’s especially nice on the iPad. (The floor lamp is a nice allusion. Get it?)